My friend Jen Chaney and I don’t see eye to eye on everything. She’s tinged blueish. I’m a nice rosy red. So it was fun when we got together to talk about Man of Steel.
Read my review of Man of Steel.
My friend Jen Chaney and I don’t see eye to eye on everything. She’s tinged blueish. I’m a nice rosy red. So it was fun when we got together to talk about Man of Steel.
Read my review of Man of Steel.
Don’t let the apparent eco-centric nature of Epic scare you off. It’s not at all an Earth-worship movie.
And don’t let the movie blurb title throw you off. (I hear the next sequel is called “The Best Movie Yet” and “Amazing Thrill-ride.”) This film deserves a better name, not to mention better marketing.
Once you get past the preconceived notions, Epic is a surprisingly satisfying movie which appeals to boys, girls and parents. Its story aligns powerfully with a Christian worldview and even at times approaches Narnian levels.
I know that’s a big statement to make and I’m not saying this film is the next The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It’s not that (excuse me for this) epic.
But the film is delightful and a nice break from that which we so often see.
The story starts when young Mary Katherine comes home to her estranged father’s country cabin following the death of her mother. She’s mourning, looking for support from the parent she no longer knows. But she seems out of luck. He’s a wild professor, a half-hinged crusader whose life work has been to study the tantalizing clues found in the forest: He believes a parallel civilization inhabits the green trees and flowered glens of the woods.
Mary Katherine (voiced by Amada Seyfried), like her mother before her, finds his theories embarrassing and his devotion to them a poor replacement for an attentive father.
“Just because you’ve never seen something doesn’t mean it’s not there,” he continually repeats to MK’s eyerolls.
But, like many mystics, he’s absolutely correct. The forest hides not only a civilization but a raging war. A menace harasses the verdant kindgom inhabited by living flowers, roly-poly mushrooms, and leaf people. Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) spreads mold and decay with his arrows of death. He gathers his minions to eat trees from the inside out, to block the sun, to wither all that is green and lively.
But Mandrake fights a losing war because every time he spreads death throughout a portion of the kingdom, Queen Tara (Beyonce) users her power of life to revive it. No sooner does Mandrake reduce a glen to ashes than Tara’s seedlings and tendrils push through the decay to reach for the sun again.
Her loyal captain at arms is Ronin (Colin Farrell), dedicated to her personally and all she stands for.
But when Mandrake’s most daring attack yet succeeds in felling Tara with a poison arrow, the Queen uses her dying moments to draw MK into their parallel world and charge her with the care of a pod that will become a new queen.
With the help of a snail and a slug (Aziz Ansi and Pitbull), and a handsome but wayward leaf soldier named Nod (Josh Hutcherson), she must help the bud bloom and thrive.
The movie succeeds in having it all: A beautiful, gown-clad fairy princess type for the girls, not to mention flower people and soldiers mounted on humming birds; Courageous, upright, and brave soldiers for the boys, with plenty of derring-do in the offing. There’s plenty of humor, especially from the snail and slug with ambitions beyond their genus.
Rated PG, the film doesn’t have the type of body humor or rude humor that turns parents off, much less buried innuendo. The action sequences are not particularly scary. This is a film that would work for elementary school students.
The images of decay and destruction fighting the powers of life is particularly useful for people of faith. Where evil intends death, life blooms again. It’s the message of the gospel. This is not entirely wishful thinking, I’m guessing, as once character even marvels that MK “risks everything to save a world that is not her own.”
Based on the books The Leaf Men and The Brave Good Bugs by William Joyce, this is the type of movie we so often wish Hollywood would produce more often. Look for most critics (swayed by their innate secularism and addiction to cynicism, poor dears) to pan it. It’s better than they say.
In fact, it’s worth a trip to the theater.
If the bad guys were defeated and the hero learned what he need to learn internally, the story’s over, isn’t it?
But not if you want more from the franchise.
This is the basic problem of Iron Man 3. Incorrigible playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is now more of a completely corrigible playMAN.
He helped save the world from semi-divine alien invasion in The Avengers. He learned to put aside his immature self-aggrandizing and work as part of a team. He committed to a mature, loving relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). He doesn’t seem to drink as much and he’s even developed a corporate conscience for his business.
It’s as if Jack Sparrow cut off the dreadlocks, married a nice lass, and started giving yacht tours of the Caribbean.
So when a new threat arises, there’s not much question if Iron Man will rise to the occasion, if he will find courage within himself to face danger and a willingness to sacrifice himself for others.
Been there. Done that.
So instead of a great superhero flick, we have an installment of the Iron Man story with little internal conflict. Sure, Stark suffers from panic attacks as a result of his stress and, sure, Pepper wishes he was a bit less involved with his work and a bit more present at home. But, really, those conflicts scream suburban CPA rather than tortured superhero.
The threat that faces Iron Man in this movie is a bit convoluted as well: A Bin Laden style terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) engages on a bombing campaign in the heart of the United States. He threatens the President. Yadda yadda yadda.
The bombings are more than just bombings, however, as Tony Stark finds when he connects them to a military-grade science project that focuses on rejuvenation of lost limbs. Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), an addled but remarkably handsome scientist, holds the key to the mystery, along with his assistant, one of Tony Stark’s conquests from his pre-Pepper days (Rebecca Hall).
Without deep internal conflicts to solve in order to reach the heights of heroism, Iron Man 3 will never measure up to other superhero movies such as The Avengers, Spiderman (the Tobey Magurie versions), and so on.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of fun.
With his friend Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Tony Stark can whip up enough one liners and daring deeds to keep you thoroughly entertained. A free-fall rescue after an airplane mishap is especially exciting. Once the Iron Men (now with remote control!) team up against the forces of perpetual rejuvenation, you’ve got an action movie on your hands. Things blow up. Things catch fire. Things fall into the depths of the ocean.
Boom boom yeah.
Besides Stark’s one-liners, there are a lot of laughs in the quick, sassy relationship that develops between the millionaire inventor and a little boy in Tennessee (Ty Simpkins). Complete with unabashed manipulation and relentless snark, the kid is a perfect foil for the reformed man-child. Ben Kingsley also has his unexpected moment in the sun.
When ranked against other superhero movies, Iron Man 3 doesn’t measure up to greatness. But when compared to what’s in the theaters and your desire to have a good time, it’s a no brainer. Go see it. Have fun.
Iron Man 3 is rated PG-13. It has intense but not gory action. A scene at the beginning suggests a sexual relationship and the woman is pictured from the back in her underwear. Tony and Piper also live together and there’s suggested intimacy there. It’s fairly mild. Language is refreshingly clean.
Other than that, it is nice, soft, heroic, and inspiring.
Which is blessing and a curse.
It is a blessing because you can take your kids to see this movie about a great American hero. The whole family can be inspired.
But it is a curse because the great American story of Jackie Robinson deserves a great movie and this isn’t it.
The story of Jackie Robinson isn’t nice. Not nice at all. That’s what makes it great.
Jackie Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, becoming the first black man to play Major League Baseball. He integrated a sport at the very heart of America’s identity. Along with mother and apple pie, baseball defined what it meant to be American.
Until Jackie Robinson, baseball meant white players in the Major League and African-American players in the Negro League. That was the way things were, the racism forming the everyday life of every American as ubiquitous and generally unquestioned as the air they breathed.
Then, as now, you didn’t go to a baseball game to think about social injustice, poverty, or racism. You went to cheer your team on, to beg for autographs from idolized players, to track the stats and marvel over the crack that sent a ball flying over the fence.
This is exactly why integrating baseball was so important. It functioned at a deeper level than rational thought.
In the film, Dodgers executive Branch Rickey is played by Harrison Ford with guttural country colloquialisms. Partly because of his deep faith and party because, as he says, dollars aren’t black or white, but green, Rickey leads the charge to sign a black player to the Dodgers ranks. The film matter-of-factly portrays his faith and the answering faith of Robinson. Rickey picks Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) as much for his character as for his baseball skill.
The man who integrates baseball must be strong, strong enough to stand up against the rage that will come. He must be courageous. He must be level-headed. Above all, he must play the long game, passing by chances to punish his taunters in physical fights or shouting matches for the ultimate prize of beating them on the field.
With the support of his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie), Robinson is that man. Turned away from airlines, refused a room at hotels, mocked by other players, jeered by the crowds, Robinson keeps his head down and calmly, deliberately, excellently plays baseball.
That is the beauty of the movie and the story: That one well-placed man, just doing his job, can impact the very soul of a nation.
That is why this is a movie that you can be proud to take your children to, a movie to share and discuss.
And yet, I left the film feeling dissatisfied.
Last year, Steven Spielberg brought another great American story to the big screen. Lincoln, like 42, told the story of a great man in a time that needed him.
I left Lincoln feeling not only that I knew the story, but that I knew the man. And even more that that: The movie contained questions left unanswered, a level of cinematic poetry that touched beyond its story to the core of humanity.
In the fine, very nice movie 42, you leave knowing the story and a bit about the man, but there are still depths to plumb and poetry to bring to life. We need to know more than the story. We need to know what it felt like to be denied access to a bathroom or a seat on a plane. We need to understand the unconscious ugliness of post war race relations.
And as much as I wanted it to, 42 did not reach those heights.
It’s a shame because there are no American stories greater than those of Jackie Robinson and heroes like him. Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., just to name a few, are great Americans and their stories deserve to be told every bit as well as Lincoln and his ilk.
It’s been a while since a bloom of great movies about African-Americans, since Roots mesmerized us on TV and Boyz n the Hood on the silver screen, since Malcolm X, Ray, Do the Right Thing, and Glory. We need African-American directors with the skill and passion to make us feel them, make us know, help us understand our shared history.
I liked 42, but I’d like to see it done again, perhaps not PG-13, deeper, more bothersome, richer, more true.
The Croods, an imaginative but uneven 3D animated offering from Dreamworks Animation, attempts to tell a story as old as charcoal sketches on a cave wall, but ends up with a confusing and thoroughly modern message.
Like Rapunzel in Tangled, Mavis in Hotel Transylvania, and Merida in Brave, Eep (voice of Emma Stone) chafes at her family’s restrictions. She just wants to spread her wings, fly… you know…have adventures. And her mean old dad just wants to lock her up and keep her from fun, friends, adventure, and the outside world.
But Dad has a point.
Eep, dad Grug, and the entire clan are cave people and the world outside is a terrifying mix of predators with big teeth and predators with even bigger teeth. The safest place is snuggled inside the cave, a big rock blocking the door.
So plucky, spunky, feisty Mavis…I mean Merida…I mean Eep bucks the system, flees the restrictions, and finds not only a dreamy boy who can control fire but a chance to save her family from destruction.
See what I mean that it must be time for a new narrative? Just once, I’d like to see a different set-up.
Some of these films tell this story well (Brave, Tangled), but it can’t be the only story facing children out there. What’s happening in America? Are there really scores of concerned but overprotective parents locking their daughters in padded rooms and not letting them experience any adventures?
Actually, maybe Hollywood has a point.
This particular version of the story has some beautiful, tender moments and a moment of self-sacrifice that soars into something lovely. It also boasts some amusing characters, especially the cantankerous grandmother who refuses to die (Cloris Leachman). In the style of an old fashioned Wile E. Coyote cartoon, the violence is unbelievably over the top and yet inconsequential in its impacts.
In real life, you can only have a multi-ton boulder dropped on you so many times before starting to feel the effects, but in the cartoons, more’s the merrier.
My favorite aspect of the movie, however, was the imaginative world drawn out of a prehistoric setting. No attempt is made to be accurate and this results in some fantastic creatures, half Dr. Seuss and half paleontology. They come as delightful surprises. Some of the artwork is quite lovely.
Sadly, all this promise is mixed with a confusing and downright ridiculous message that is pounded over the children’s heads like, well, a multi-ton boulder.
The surface moral, such as it is, goes something like this: “Sometimes you have to leave your cave and jump off a cliff and ride the sun.” The deeper moral, and redeeming quality of the flick, is self-sacrifice, but it doesn’t have a slogan like the cliff jumping does.
We could probably do some mental calisthenics and find a sweet moral metaphor in “Leave the cave, jump off the cliff, ride the sun.” But the movie doesn’t let us. It’s not a metaphor. They have to literally jump off a cliff. And literally – I’m still a bit confused on this as I’m sure the screenwriters are as well – they have to ride the sun.
So when the moment of self-sacrifice comes and characters are being hurled into an abyss, part of your brain thinks “how beautiful” and part thinks “Wait..wait..they’re jumping off a cliff. That seems ill-advised.”
It doesn’t quite jive, you see?
So if you’re looking for a movie to enjoy with the kiddos with a muddled but nice message and some good, clean jokes, you’re in luck. The film is a steady stream of cartoon violence, but doesn’t have the kind of veiled inappropriate jokes that set parents’ teeth on edge. Rated PG, It’s a little odd, a little weird at times, but it means well.
It will hardly be a family favorite or a classic, but neither will you regret it.
After years of Shrek-like cynicism and fart jokes dominating children’s media, a refreshing tornado of sincerity blows into theaters with the new spectacular Oz the Great and Powerful. A movie which remains true to the spirit of its source material while entertaining and delighting, it’s the best kids’ flick to come along since 2011′s The Muppets bopped into our hearts.
To understand Oz, one must understand the orginal stories, not just the 1939 blockbuster that revolutionized cinema, but also the books by Frank L. Baum and other writers that encapsulated the optimism of the 1920s. It seems hopelessly naive and innocent now, but in aftermath of the horrors of the first world war, people believed that humanity could create a society that was good and just and free from murder, war, and other sundry evils.
Hitler and his death camps ruined that, of course, and few can say “the inherent goodness of man” with a straight face since then.
From this “Happy Days are Here Again” optimism, the land of Oz was born. It is a place with great magic and clever, sometimes self-absorbed characters, but no death, wars, fighting, or evil. In most of the books, not much happens and conflict has to be imported from the outside in the person of Gnome king who wants to imprison the happy people of Oz, or, alternately, from Kansas.
And so it is that Oz the Great and Powerful roughly follows the storyline of The Wizard of Oz even as it creates a prequel setting the stage for Dorothy’s wild adventure.
A traveling magician called Oz (James Franco) turns down his chance at happiness with Annie (Michelle Williams) because he cannot settle for the black and white existence of a salt-of-the-earth farmer from Kansas. Having rejected a good life with a good wife and a steady, decent job for the potential greatness of showbiz, he becomes incorrigible: chasing women (in a purely PG fashion), abusing his assistant, and generally being a two-bit scoundrel.
A tornado blows him to a vibrant, enchanted land cannot blow his character clean.
This land is under the thumb of an evil witch who sends her flying monkeys out to terrorize the fields, farms, and cottages of simple folk. They’ve been waiting for a wizard to save them.
Since being a wizard comes with mountains of gold and the attentions of beautiful witch sisters Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Oz signs on for the job. He knows he is nothing more than a con man and fake, but hey: Gold! Pretty girls!
It’s not until he meets a little girl made from china, as shattered in her porcelain body as in her psyche by the evil witch’s minions, that Oz begins to think outside himself. By then, however, he has callously mistreated the heart of one innocent woman/witch and conned an entire people, two selfish deeds that will haunt him in the final act.
It’s well-known that movie critics in general are a cynical bunch who get twitchy without their daily dose of irony. It’s not their fault, poor dears, but when Glinda the Good (Michelle Williams) looks up at Oz with adoring, pure, saintly eyes and starts talking of the dreams of the people, critics tend to long for a little Quentin Tarantino.
This is why Les Miserables was panned and will have been why Oz the Great and Powerful is not as beloved as it should be.
They are wrong.
The movie is a delight, from the fantasy, jewel-toned visuals to the new characters. The 3D effects play with the technology (look a spear coming at you!) in a way that critics pooh-pooh but kids will love. Although there are shout-outs to the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Horse of a Different Color, and so on, Oz gathers his own new little troop traveling the yellow brick road. He befriends a winged monkey named Finley (voice of Zach Braff) and the precocious china girl (Joey King), both of whom elicit more laughs than anyone expects. James Franco occasionally overacts, but ends up acquitting himself well. Michelle Williams shines, as always, in a purely good role, but the meaty role goes to Mila Kunis as an innocent whose heartbreak leads to great trouble.
Rated PG, the movie has definite suspense at times, with scary flying monkeys, a spooky graveyard, and a battle. It will be too intense for the youngest moviegoers. There is no sexuality, inappropriate language, or gore.
But best of all are the simple, decent messages as rich as Kansas farm soil: Greatness is not as important as goodness. The way to find meaning in life is to put others above yourself. Believe in goodness and decency.
And so this movie is fantastic for kids who already know in their little hearts that decency and goodness can, indeed must, exist somewhere. It’s the adults, seeped in a steady stream of violence and sorrow, who need a refresher that the pure in heart will see Oz.
A violence-wallowing tale of a semi-legal platoon of cops who take on post Los Angeles’ most notorious gangster in the hopeful years just after the second world war, the movie is fun and stylish, but feels very familiar.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is tired of slogging away in middle management of the mob. Sure, he gets to pull guys apart by chaining them to opposing hot rods, but the thrill is gone. He needs more. Specifically, he needs Los Angeles as his own personal mobboy playground.
Sargent John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), whom everyone calls Sarge on account of his honorable war record, is one of the few remaining honest police on the force. He takes it personal, see, when the Mickey Cohens of the world force fresh faced star hopefuls into prostitution or run heroin in the shantytowns. He’s a maverick, bet you didn’t see that coming, who doesn’t play by the rules.
His – wait for it – pregnant wife (Mireille Enos) knows he’s a hero deep down, but gosh, would really love for him to stop taking on entire apartment buildings of bad guys single handedly.
But when the police chief asks Sarge to put together a secret squad to harass and pester Mickey Cohen out of town, Sarge jumps right on board. He gathers his team. The sharpshooter (Robert Patrick), the straight-arrow but disregarded black officer (Anthony Mackie), the excellent but oppressed Hispanic (Michael Pena) and the earnest family man (Giovanni Ribisi).
Just for kicks, the disaffected cynic cop with a buried heart of gold (Ryan Gosling) jumps aboard at the last minute. He’s engaged in a risky but passionate relationship with Mickey Cohen’s current mob doll (Emma Stone, channeling Jessica Rabbit).
Waddya know? They’re all mavericks, every gosh darn one of em.
You can figure out what happens from here. No, really. You can figure it out. You know exactly which character will die a heroic or ignoble death and which will not. There’s not any mystery.
The film famously was due to be released in the summer, but the shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, CO changed that. The movie had a movie theater shooting scene. It was pulled and edited and released now, only to find a similar atmosphere after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. The timing fiasco is most apparent in the big, finale shootout scene which happens in a lobby decorated to the hilt with Christmas paraphernalia As trees, ornaments, and fake snow poof and explode in slow motion, the audience can’t help but think of all their Christmas gear, now thankfully packed away in the attics. The effect is jarring.
But what there is, there is in spades. First of all, the cast is fantastic. Every one is top notch and they do what they can with the material. Sean Penn doesn’t have much to work with beyond homicidal megalomaniac, but he gives it his all. Likewise, Ryan Gosling seems to have fun with his role, adopting a high-pitched Bugsy accent and mannerism that at least tries to add another dimension to his cavalier lover character. Emma Stone, of course, is universally adorable. Though her character may be channeling Jessica Rabbit, she practically out-Jessica-Rabbits Jessica Rabbit.
The movie makes the most of its R rating as well, amping up the violence, mostly in the form of fisticuffs with blood splattering and bones crunching. There is implied sexual activity, but no nudity or sex scenes themselves, although both are flirted with in an after-lovemaking scene. Language, as you might imagine, is quite R-rated as well.
It all adds up to a movie that is moderately fun to watch, a fine date night flick if your date doesn’t mind a blood squirt here or there. But it’s a film that feels like a rehash of earlier, better films. Take your pick. L.A. Confidential comes to mind. Mullholland Falls. The list goes on from there.
For January, which is a notorious dumping ground for movies that somehow failed to gel in the moviemaking kitchen, it’s not bad. Judged on a bigger scale, however, it’s not good.
Perhaps the genuis of Kathryn Bigalow is that she can make her movies tremendously exciting and engaging while still allowing them to be a Rorschach test of audience attitudes about her subject matter.
Zero Dark Thirty is no exception. A tense, gripping, and well-made look at the hunt for and raid against Osama bin Laden, the film purports to be based on first hand accounts of the happenings. I can add little to the excellent review by Paul Miller, a veteran of our war in Afghanistan and a former CIA analyst helping in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Seriously, read his review.
The always excellent Jessica Chastain stars as a young but driven CIA operative newly arrived in Iraq. Chastain is almost too pretty for the hard-nosed role, but manages to overcome her beauty to create a character one both admires and fears. With no life but the hunt and no passion but her job, she frets, worries, and obsesses over each and every clue that might lead to Big Daddy Bin Laden. More than anything, she feels it in her gut. Tiny clues irritate her like sand in the eye over the course of years. She cannot let go, even in the face of unsupportive bosses or an apathetic Presidential administration.
In the third act, the film morphs into a fast-paced action segment as the raid unfolds. Bigalow is in her element here, tension mixed with subdued emotion and anticlimatic outcomes. In the heat of the moment, soldiers stand mentally outside themselves, watching themselves take out America’s most hated enemy and feeling their own lack of jubilation or sense of momentousness. The glory will come later. In the moment, the team is infused with professionalism and a surreal sense of normalcy.
In the end, death comes with no fireworks or heroic last stands, but with sudden silence.
Bigalow, for all the controversy she’s receiving over the waterboarding scene, deserves credit for her sensitive treatment of someone who deserves no respect, Osama bin Laden. She does not shy away from showing his death, but certainly avoids the jubilation or gloating that would be the hallmark of a lesser director, treating his body with careful avoidance. She clearly made the movie with a global audience in mind and Americans need not cringe thinking of how its tone will play in Europe or the Middle East.
In fact, the movie is very good and a good ambassador for America. Bigalow makes a movie full of nuance and understated emotion that asks all the questions but answers none of them. Some of the controversy comes from this insistence by Bigalow that audiences think for themselves. She neither condones nor condemns the waterboarding and other techniques that some view as unacceptable torture, something that seems to have the anti-interrogation, anti-war forces in a frenzy. They demand a heavy handed denunciation.
The movie is a gripping, fascinating ride through the world of those who serve on the front lines of information gathering and intelligence work. Their lives are a series of videotapes in small rooms, files on computers, voice recordings, interspersed with the threat of violence that infuses those prosaic data points with meaning.
Neither does Bigalow forget or minimize what is being fought. The movie opens chillingly, with disembodied voices crying out panic, fear, and love: The last calls of the victims of 9/11. As the intelligence agents and soldiers fight on, they are horrified and frustrated by the attacks they could not stop: The London bombings of 2005, attacks against Western targets in the Middle East, and most immediate to the film, the suicide bomber who killed agents in 2009 at Khowst, a CIA base.
While the controversy rages, the movie stands as a tribute to Americans who quietly and doggedly work impossibly faint leads to prevent future attacks and to seek justice for past attacks. One cannot leave the theater without increased respect for them.
In that, as well as in creating good entertainment, Kathryn Bigalow succeeds very well. This is one of the best movies of the year.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, like the two previous installments of the series, deals heavily in adolescent frustration and angst. Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon), the Woody Allen of the seventh grade, drifts from humiliation to deeper humiliation and from nervous overthinking to neurotic imagining.
Much of his angst is of his own making. Some comes at the hands of his tormenting older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), his too-adorable younger brother, and his well-meaning but deeply embarrassing parents (Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris).
As Dog Days opens, Greg has just finished – no, survived – the seventh grade and sets out to enjoy the best summer ever. To Greg, this means interminable hours playing video games. To his mother, it means trips to the over-crowded and pee-infused municipal pool. Even his father expects him to frolic outdoors like some pioneer child.
Greg seeks refuge in the country club membership of his decidedly uncool best friend Rowley (Robert Capron), where the spacious pool and quick service are rendered even more attractive by the presence of Greg’s crush Holly (Peyton List). In order to get his overly-enthusiastic dad off his back, Greg fabricates a job at the club, a false development that fills his father with real pride.
This father-son storyline enables the movie to function at two levels.
On one level, Greg pratfalls his way through the summer: losing his shorts on the high dive, accidentally calling 911 on Rowley’s dad, and setting up his wanna be rocker brother (band name: loded diper) to ruin a spoiled girl’s sweet 16 party. It’s all silly and funny, capitalizing on the adolescent feeling that the whole world must be watching everything one does, especially the humiliating bits.
On another level, it’s a sweet and morally solid story of a father-son relationship. When Greg’s deception is uncovered, his father changes from the goofy, loser dad we’re so used to seeing onscreen to a father who, although deeply disappointed, still has his son’s best interest at heart. He’s a good dad. It’s a shame that this is such a novel concept on our TV and movie screens.
Better yet, Greg’s redemption comes as he makes a difficult choice to take responsibility for his actions, even though it will cost him. It is his father’s recognition of this strength of character that builds the bridge to their reconciliation.
Sure they’re goofy and aimed straight at the elementary school set, but these adaptations of Jeff Kinney’s novels exist in a sweet and moral universe. The previous film Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules dealt with sibling relationships and the first movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid explored real friendship. In each installment, Greg Heffley becomes a little more civilized and a little less self-focused.
It seems that, despite all the humiliation, Greg Heffley is going to be just fine.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is rated PG for some rude humor. There are no sexual jokes, no language and no violence. It is appropriate for elementary school kids and up.
In a montage both funny and surprisingly sweet, Evan (Stiller) takes us on a tour of his Midwestern life: his quiet, idyllic town, his astonishingly satisfying career as a manager at Costco, and his sexually unexciting but warm marriage to Abby (Rosemary DeWitt). What’s more, Costco’s night watchman has just become an American citizen, an accomplishment he celebrates by getting a big ole American tattoo and living large inside the darkened Costco.
The whole thing is funny without being mean or mocking and we begin to think that this comedy might be a send up of the trend in Hollywood to look down at “fly over country” and people living happy, normal lives. A sort of tribute to the everyday man.
But then the aliens kill that night watchmen and Vince Vaughn breaks out his first genitalia joke and we lose the buzz.
You see, once Evan discovers the dead night watchman, he organizes a neighborhood watch. Bob (Vaughn) joins because he’s effectively single parenting his daughter while his wife travels and needs some man time. Franklin (Jonah Hill) signs up to have the power and prestige denied him when he failed the police exam. And Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade)? Well, we’re not exactly sure why he’s there, although it may have something to do with hot, lonely women.
The boys quickly switch from foul-mouthed vigilantes to foul-mouthed alien hunters. The movie can’t decide if it wants to be a crude comedy or a suspenseful alien thriller.
In this case, their path to saving the Costco and the world from aliens leads, as so often is the case in these movies, to a raging teen party and an adult orgy. And genitalia jokes. Lots of genitalia jokes.
Did I mention the movie is rated R? In addition to the long, elaborate, explicit genitalia jokes, there is pervasive language, some violence, sexual situations, and some nudity in the context of that aforementioned orgy scene.
Which all sounds exciting, I’m sure, but it’s not.
Turns out, there are only so many jokes you can make about the male sex organ. And most of them have been made earlier and better than this film.
It’s a shame too, because the underlying characters are pretty likable. Stiller’s Evan may be boring, but he’s a good guy contented with his life, his wife, and his future. Vaughn’s Bob has one mission in life: To protect the virtue of his teenage daughter from the boys (or aliens) who are hell-bent on violating it. He’s closer to church-going conservative than Hollywood libertine, if it weren’t for that potty mouth.
Franklin, however, is a little more unfortunate. The film first encountered controversy when it was titled “Neighborhood Watch.” In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting by a neighborhood watchman, the studio changed the name to “The Watch.” Now, a week after the Aurora shootings, Jonah Hill’s cop wannabe character is a humorous take on the unhinged weirdo with a unsettling arsenal of lethal weapons under his bed and an unhealthy fascination with paramilitary paraphernalia.
It doesn’t seem so funny this week.
If it were a better movie, we could get past the cringe-inducing reminders of the Colorado horror.
As it is, better to skip the whole thing and hope Stiller recovers his Zoolander magic the next time around.