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Review of ISN’T IT ROMANTIC (Blu-ray)

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Grade: C-
Entire family: No
2019, 89 min., Color
Romantic Comedy-Fantasy
Rated PG-13 for Language, some sexual material, and a brief drug reference
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C
Trailer
Amazon link

Isn’t It Romantic?

Uh, not really, I’m sorry to say.

This 2019 film from Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) seems to want to satirize romantic comedies while also following the formula and hoping audiences will walk away feeling warm and fuzzy about the possibility of romance for everyone—whether they’re “beautiful people” or not. As admirable as that message may be, it’s tough to have it both ways, and the film falls flat as satire and also disappoints as a romantic comedy.

“Flat” is really the operative word here. For most of the 89-minute runtime, Isn’t It Romantic has zero energy—flat as a half-bottle of beer that’s been left out overnight. Actors seem to be just going through the motions. One big problem is the script by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox, and Katie Silberman. It’s just plain dull, and limp lines contribute to the overall flatness. Too often, gags go on unmercifully long. We don’t, for example, get a lot of laughs, insight or plot exposition as Natalie (Rebel Wilson) goes on and on about why she hates the rom-com formula in a montage that we’re guessing is supposed to be funny. As for the gimmick the writers employ to give Natalie a conk on the head and put her smack dab in the middle of a romantic comedy, the film is frankly more fun and interesting without it. And unfortunately, that gimmick occupies the bulk of the film.

With older movies like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949), the conk on the head journey worked because of the deep contrast between worlds. It was fascinating to see Oz through Dorothy’s eyes or to experience medieval times through from the perspective of a horse-and-buggy-era blacksmith. Also missing in Isn’t It Romantic is the level of smart reporting and detail that makes newer stranger-in-a-strange-land films like Pleasantville (1998) so compelling, and when Natalie does begin to suspect that she’s in a romantic comedy it’s not nearly as satisfying as when Jim Carrey learns he’s in a reality TV show (The Truman Show, 1998).

Another problem is Wilson herself. She frankly doesn’t have the range to convey the emotional journey a main character needs to make for a film like this to be successful. She plays a milquetoast architect who lets others at the firm walk all over her—even those for whom she’s a superior. There’s an attentive co-worker (Adam Devine as Josh) who obviously has a crush on her, but Natalie is oblivious to his feelings. You KNOW they’re going to get together because that’s the rom-com formula, but we frankly don’t care because not enough time is spent on their relationship or situation, and because Wilson doesn’t sell it. Those who were wondering if she could make the leap from comic character actor to lead actress will probably walk away from this film speculating on the reasons why the funny actress wasn’t able to pull it off. A veteran lead actress might have been able to compensate more for all those flat lines and long periods between laughs. Even multiple allusions to Pretty Woman and 13 Going on 30 aren’t enough to help.

Liam Hemsworth, who plays the eye-candy man of every rom-com woman’s dreams, seems a little lost, and in a role that’s supposed to be comic relief Brandon Scott Jones isn’t nearly as funny as we needed the clichéd gay best friend of the rom-com heroine to be. One of the film’s more hilarious moments comes near the end, when Natalie comments on how she thought her neighbor was heterosexual because of all the women who went in and out of the apartment, and the character and his partner get indignant because, “What, we can be gay AND sell drugs?” There just aren’t nearly enough funny moments like that, and you realize, too, how flat the film is when the cast launches into a big song-and-dance number and you think, Finally, some energy! Wilson fans will of course enjoy seeing her in a different role, but others will watch that big number and wonder why there wasn’t more energy throughout the film.

Language: Lots of suggested f-bombs but only one use of the word, plus another couple dozen lesser swearwords and a “double bird” flip-off

Sex: No nudity or implied sex, but the size of a man’s organ is discussed at some length and Hemsworth is shown in just a towel in a Groundhog Day scene that keeps repeating

Violence: One of the film’s funnier scenes involves Natalie fighting with a would-be mugger in the NYC subway; later Natalie pulls an IV out of her arm and blood squirts everywhere, and there’s a sudden car crash

Adult situations: There’s some drinking in a karaoke bar and a character is seen smoking; there’s also a brief reference to selling “weed”

Takeaway: Wilson is the latest popular character actress to find out that it’s tougher than it looks to carry a film as the headliner

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Review of CRAZY RICH ASIANS (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B+
Entire family: Almost (10 and older?)
2018, 120 min., Color
Romantic comedy
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

Crazy Rich Asians is a rom-com that’s heavy on the rom and lighter on the com. There are plenty of amusing moments, mind you, but this 2018 film by Jon M. Chu has more in common with splendiferous romances like Pride and Prejudice than it does the old Doris Day-Rock Hudson romantic comedies that depended mostly on farcical misunderstandings and mistaken identities. The plot is pretty straightforward: it’s a variation on the old meet-the-parents theme, with a couple’s future on the line.

Based on the international best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians features Fresh off the Boat’s Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, the serious girlfriend of Nick Young (Henry Golding) who flies to Singapore to be his plus-one for his country’s wedding of the century. When they fly in an airline suite, she learns for the first time just how rich Nick’s family is, and that’s the main complicating factor. She may be an American success story—the daughter of a hardworking single mom who made Mom proud by becoming an economics professor—but in Singapore she has two strikes against her: she’s comparatively poor, and she’s Chinese American rather than Chinese. Nick’s family, meanwhile, is like the Singapore version of the Kennedys—old money who built Singapore and who now draw paparazzi to them as if they were royalty.

As the tagline says, “The only thing crazier than love is family,” and the humor derives more from characters and their mannerisms and quips than from situations. Awkwafina is pretty hilarious as Rachel’s old college roommate who is unabashedly flamboyant and lives with her mother in a Singapore mansion, while Nico Santos is equally funny as a gay friend of the Young family. Ken Jeong makes an appearance as Rachel’s old roommate’s wealthy father, but he isn’t given nearly as much screen time as the younger generation. More

Review of FATHER GOOSE (Olive Signature Blu-ray)

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Grade: A-
Entire family: Yes
1964, 118 min., Color
Romantic comedy/Adventure
Olive Films
Not rated (would be PG for some peril and adult drinking)
Aspect ratio: anamorphic widescreen (16×9)
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA Mono
Bonus features: C+
Clip
Amazon link

As I wrote when Olive released a no-frills Blu-ray of this title in 2014, Father Goose is one of those rare films that appeals 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 make it appealing 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. Much of the humor is based on the contrast between Grant’s scruffy character and “proper” behavior, with the girls as engaging as any child actors I’ve seen.

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 all around him, he proceeds to try to “borrow” cans of gasoline and rations.

That 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.

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Review of FRANKIE AND JOHNNY (1966) (Blu-ray)

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Grade: C/C+
Entire family: No
1966, 87 min., Color
Musical romantic comedy
Not rated: Would be PG-13 (for smoking, drinking, drunkenness, fighting, and suggestive scenes)
Kino Lorber
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 2.0
Bonus features: n/a
“Frankie and Johnny” clip
Amazon link

Three Elvis Presley movies were released in 1966—two of them contemporary (Paradise, Hawaiian Style and Spinout) and one of them, Elvis’s 20th film, a costumed period musical in which Elvis plays a riverboat entertainer and inveterate gambler.

Though there are “11 great songs” advertised for Frankie and Johnny, only two of them are true Elvis tunes where The King actually gets into it: “Shout It Out,” a typical nightclub performance number that gets him smiling, clapping, and gyrating with the Jordanaires backing him up, and “Hard Luck,” a blues he sings accompanied by a shoeshine boy on harmonica. The rest are hokey period or vaudeville-style numbers that make Presley look straitjacketed and uninterested. In fact, the 1890s costumes in this musical make him look so uncomfortable that you can tell he’s feeling out of his element.

So are we. It’s not your typical Elvis movie. If it seems plot-starved (and it does), that’s because it’s basically an expansion of the popular story song “Frankie and Johnny,” which appeared in various forms from the late 1890s through 1912. As the song goes, Frankie and Johnny were lovers, but when Frankie caught Johnny two-timing her and “doing her wrong,” she shot him with her .44.

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Review of CLAMBAKE (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B-
Entire family: Yes
1967, 99 min., Color
Musical comedy-romance
Not rated: Would be PG (for smoking, drinking, and some suggestive scenes)
Kino Lorber
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 2.0
Bonus features: B- (an audio commentary from Videodrome video rental store)
“Clambake” clip
Amazon link

It started with Jailhouse Rock (1957), the film that established the Elvis film character as a brooding James Dean, often with a chip on his shoulder, but with a good guy hiding under the facade. That character would appear with only minor alterations in most of his 23 films made between 1962 and 1969. By comparison, during that same period John Wayne made 17 films. Both were box-office giants.

Many of the films from this period are “a-go-go” films, and if you’re a fan of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker spoof Top Secret! you’ll see in the formula Elvis movies what they were making fun of. Today’s families will find these lightweight musical comedy-romances fun to watch, but also fun to make fun of. Some of the dancing, some of the clothes, some of the antics are just plain hilarious now, though they were intended, like the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello “beach” movies, to be campy and fun even back then. They feature plenty of mod and mini-skirted and bikinied women and goofy guys doing the swim, the frug, the monkey, the jerk, and all those dances that were so cool then but look so silly now. What will seem even sillier to modern audiences are the backgrounds that were clumsily and unapologetically used (like the mountains in the background of this film set in Miami), or the far-fetched ways in which the writers sought to bring Elvis in contact with children.

Yes, children. You see, the Elvis film persona was meant to be everything to women: a bad boy, a nice guy, a singing romantic, a tough guy when he had to be, a clean-living guy who usually refrained from alcohol and tobacco, and a good-looking guy who was so good with kids that women saw him as father material. Despite the attitude, Elvis was the kind of guy you could bring home to meet Mom and Dad.

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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

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