Show Dogs: Overly Edgy Kid Flick Has Little for Adults

1.5 out of 5 stars (one of the worst films I’ve seen this year)

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Show Dogs is one of the strangest kid films I’ve ever seen.  Not since Kangaroo Jack has a movie been so confused about who its audience is, containing jokes about inbreeding, disassociation, and other things you don’t want to explain to your child.  Add a terrible script with an awkwardly miscast Will Arnett as the human lead, and you have a recipe for a film that will go down as one of the most bizarrely mishandled talking dog movies in history.

The paper-thin plot follows somehow ownerless New York cop canine Max (voiced by a dedicated Ludacris) who is partnered with FBI Agent Frank (An embarrassed-looking Arnett) to help find a panda smuggler at a dog show.  Unfortunately, Max couldn’t give a lick about dog shows, and must enlist the help of an ex-best-in-show dog Philippe (voiced by an unrecognizable Stanley Tucci). Hilarity supposedly ensues as Max tries to hunt down the smugglers and learn to respect the dog show life, while Frank somewhat hits it off with another dog handler (Natasha Lyonne).

This should not be in a theater.  It stinks of multiple writers who had no idea who it was aimed at. One scene in particular has invoked parental disdain in which Max enters a dissociative dream after being told to go to his “zen place” when the judges inspect his private parts for the competition.  Luckily, the backlash is seeing the scene removed from theatrical release this weekend, but I think there are other out-of-place jokes here given the type of film it is.

Show Dogs is an awkward mess whose needless adult jokes make it inappropriate for the small children who will otherwise enjoy it.  I hope everyone was paid well for this; I only paid with my time.

Rated PG For Suggestive And Rude Humor (A ton of it), Language (Damn and BS are used once), And Some Action (A brief scuffle at the end).  Leave this dog in timeout.

Millennials: Skip this Book Club

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

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I know I am not the target audience for Book Club.  In fact, the only reason I saw it was because I got the times wrong for another movie, and Book Club was the only other option at that time.  However, I was fully ready to embrace the film, be surprised, or have a laugh.  I wanted to enjoy this movie, but the longer it dragged on, the less inertia its subplots contained, the more I fought back a snooze.  It’s a shame, because 2 of the actresses are really good here and deserve better material.  Book Club is fitfully funny, but its overlong runtime, sluggish pacing, and lack of focus undermine the chemistry of the four leads.  Cross this Club meeting off your calendars.  The older women in my audience enjoyed this film, but I unfortunately did not.

Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen have been BFF’s for years, meeting for book club meetings while balancing their own lives.  While reading the Fifty Shades  trilogy, the quartet decide to embrace life and love in their own way, becoming stronger people individually and as friends.

Diane Keaton is the biggest problem with this movie.  The character writing isn’t bad, but Keaton makes her wimpy and boring most of the time, save for one inexplicably good scene where she tells her adult daughters not to worry so much about her in her old age.  Jane Fonda is Jane Fonda, for better or worse, but Bergen and Steenburgen provide needed life to the movie and their characters.  Steenburgen in particular steals the show, culminating in a hilarious dance number with husband Craig T. Nelson (who also rocks).  If only the film around them could be as good.

Book Clubs’ moments of hilarity are outweighed by long stretches of tedium that make you question its purpose.  While I certainly laughed enough to keep my butt in the seat (no, it wasn’t Overboard 2018 bad), I nearly dozed off near the end.  Fans of the cast may enjoy seeing them together, but anyone else is better off participating in an actual book club.

Rated PG-13 for Sex-Related Material throughout and language

Melissa McCarthy’s Newest a Decent Party Film

2.5 out of 5 stars (decent)

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Life of the Party may have the slightest plot I’ve seen in 2018, and I’m okay with that (seriously, An Extremely Goofy Movie had more narrative thrust than this).  In a time when most big Hollywood releases are trying to cram “important messages” down our throats, Life of the Party comes along to give us a good laugh.  This is not Melissa McCarthy’s funniest movie, nor her best performance, but it is definitely a fun enough romp in the “turn your brain off” genre that left a smile on my face.

McCarthy is Deanna, a proud mother whose husband Dan (Matt Walsh) just divorced her after dropping daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off for her senior year of college.  Not wanting to move in with her own parents again, Deanna decides to complete her Archaeology degree and attend college with Maddie (who takes this decision unrealistically well).  She meets boys, bumps into a mean girl (Disney Channel starlet Debby Ryan), and all the other things people in movie college do.

Life of the Party is a movie made to entertain.  The cast is having fun, enough of the jokes hit, and the film thankfully avoids unearned sentimentality and feminist messages that ruin so many movies like this.  Sometimes a movie just needs to be funny, and for me, this one did the trick.  McCarthy and Gordon have nice mother-daughter chemistry, and Debby Ryan works well as the mean girl.  Also, look out for Julie Bowen as Dan’s new girlfriend and Maya Rudolph as Deanna’s BFF.  This isn’t particularly memorable, but in a time when Hollywood movies seem more concerned with addressing topical issues than entertaining the audience, Life of the Party is a fun ride that’s worth seeing at the cheap theater.

Rated PG-13 for Sexual Material, Drug Content, and Partying

Abandon Ship From Anna Faris’ New Comedy

1 out of 5 stars (one of the worst films I’ve ever seen)

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This article appeared on on May 14, 2018.

I’ve been reviewing movies since 2005, and I’ve seen a lot of clunkers.  From offensive tripe like Daddy’s Home to the incompetence that is Furry Vengeance, I’ve had my fair share of displeasure at the multiplex.  However, no theatrically-released film has ever been so awful to the point that I walked out of it.  Never has a film so fundamentally misunderstood its premise, characters, and message so badly that I actively had to leave. That is, until I saw the mess that is the unnecessary 2018 remake of Overboard.  While the original had depth and thought-provoking commentary while still being a laugh riot, this shipwreck is content to trot out easy jokes without any of the pathos of its predecessor and completely undermines its romantic ending.

This time we get Kate (a totally miscast Anna Faris), a harried mother of 3 girls who works as a carpet cleaner and pizza deliverer.  She is called by rich buffoon Leonardo (a cartoonish Eugenio Derbez) to clean his yacht carpet, who fires her after she won’t get him a snack (no, seriously), and throws her and her equipment off the boat.   Kate gets a chance for revenge after Leonardo falls off his ship and gets amnesia.  She decides to masquerde as his wife, turn him into her slave, and force him to get a construction job (because there’s no way anyone will recognize one of the richest guys in the world, right?)  Oh yeah, there’s also a new subplot that really shouldn’t be here about Leo’s sister Magda (Cecilia Suarez) wanting the family company.

This movie is tedious, predictable, and dumb.  Characters act ridiculously, the two leads have no chemistry, and any emotion that could have been mined is totally forced and unearned.  The producers of this film had no reason to remake this other than brand recognition, and it clearly shows.  Skip this Overboard and watch the classic original instead.

Rated PG-13 for Suggestive Material, Partial Nudity, and Language

Bosch Season 4: Amazon’s Dark Crime Drama Explores Topical Themes, but is Anticlimactic

3.5 out of 5 stars (above average)

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I entered Bosch’s 4th season totally cold.  While TV crime dramas don’t usually interest me, this season of Bosch enthralled with its grounded narrative, flawed characters, and intelligent writing.  I spent the first 9 episodes on the edge of my couch, but was sadly let down by an underwhelming finale that, while emotionally satisfying, lacked the urgency of what came before.  Bosch’s 4th season is thrilling, atmospheric, and refreshingly unpredictable in an overcrowded landscape of generic crime shows.

This season sees Det. Harry Bosch (an exceptional Titus Welliver) oversee a task force to solve the murder of an important civil rights lawyer.  As this is LA on television in 2018, the African-American community instantly believes a cop is to blame and forms a Black Lives Matter-esque group that incites further tension between the LAPD and the citizens it is sworn to protect.  Oh yeah, Bosch also has some family drama to tangle with.  Because who wouldn’t want to focus on Bosch’s angst-ridden teenage daughter (An acceptable Madison Lintz) when there’s a murder case to be solved?

This show almost strikes gold.  Rather than politicize its theme, Bosch takes the time to intelligently explore both sides of the racial argument rather than oversimplify it.  The reliance on complex characters and storytelling over bombastic violence was a breath of fresh air.  Unfortunately, the season finale leaves all of that interesting commentary on the back burner, drowning in set up for next year and leaving those big questions hanging.  I was ready to give this 4 out of 5 stars, but the bungled ending forced me to lower my score.

Despite an underwhelming ending, I would still highly recommend Bosch for people who want a different kind of crime drama.  The entire cast is brilliant, the writing smart, and the overall narrative thrilling.  Stream it on Amazon Prime.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: A Super Sequel with Brains

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a prime example of how to do a sequel right.  It builds on everything that was good about its predecessor while still being a solid standalone movie.  I also applaud the inclusion of pointed political commentary that actually feels like it was researched and understood by the screenwriters before it was placed in the story.  But explosion junkies have no fear: all of that weighty material is perfectly balanced out by good old fashioned action that services the narrative and almost never overstays its welcome.

We follow Steve Rodgers/Captain America (A dryly charismatic Chris Evans) as he is adjusting to modern life after being defrosted by the military.  Working with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) as a field agent for secret government organization SHIELD, Steve doesn’t exactly trust that the men upstairs are honest about their work, a suspicion proven when someone puts a hit on SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).  Worse still, high-ranking senator Alex Pierce (Robert Redford) believes Steve was involved, causing him and Natasha to go into hiding and eventually encounter someone from Steve’s past who will complicate the mission even further.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier holds up better than most other comic book films.  It’s a political thriller and character piece before an action extravaganza, and that increases its appeal beyond comic junkies.  It also humanizes Steve Rogers and handles its plot quite smoothly.  This is the kind of movie that knows how to serve up awesome battle sequences and character drama in equal measure.  Action fans will be more than satisfied, and people like me who enjoy actual stories should be entertained too.  See it.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence, Action, and Gunplay Throughout