Tag Archives: James Marsden

Diaper Dandies

The Boss Baby: Family Business

by George Wolf

What happens when The Boss Baby we met in 2017 gets all grown up?

Well, when we catch up with Theodore “Ted” Templeton (voiced again by Alec Baldwin) in the Dreamworks sequel Family Business, he’s a hedge fund honcho who now has a statue in his honor at Baby Corp. But Ted works all the time, doesn’t see much of his family, and has a strained relationship with his brother Tim (James Marsden).

Tim and wife Carol (Eva Longoria) are parents of Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), a whip smart but increasingly distant second grader at the Acorn School, and Tina (Amy Sedaris), a new baby with a familiar secret.

Yep, Tina’s an agent from Baby Corp, and they need the Templeton boys to mend fences and work together. It seems Acorn headmaster Dr. Erwin Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum) is cooking up something nefarious at the school, so Ted and Tim need to drink the formula that will – to the tune of “Time Warp” – turn them back into a baby (Ted) and a schoolboy (Tim) for 48 hours. Then they must use that time to derail Dr. Armstrong’s plan for a baby revolution (“cake for everybody!”)

Director Tom McGrath and writer Michael McCullers return from the first film, where they struggled to expand Marla Frazee’s book to feature length without leaning on excess filler.

But this new installment comes together as a more independent, fully formed adventure. The pace is buzzing with often frenetic activity that should keep the kids interested, and though the laughs aren’t hearty LOLs, McGrath and McCullers score with several well-placed and understated asides that parents will appreciate.

Baldwin’s buttery sarcasm is again perfect for the little bossman (“I have a beautiful voice!”), while Sedaris and Goldblum bring some zany Sedaris and Goldblum (both always welcome) to the voice ensemble.

Can the Templeton brothers form a new bond while thwarting Armstrong’s plan? Can Tim return to adult form in time to see Tabitha sing in the Holiday pageant (which also features a song about global warming called “We’re Doomed”)? Is the head on Ted’s statue big enough?

Yes, answering these questions does get both predictable and convoluted, but Family Business stocks just enough inspired nuttiness and warm fuzzies to finish in the black.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8BZfBxTukc

Blue Streak

Sonic the Hedgehog

by George Wolf

Even before the masses were recoiling in horror at the people/feline hybrids of Cats, the early look of Sonic the Hedgehog caused such a fan uproar that the little blue speedster got a full CGI makeover.

Well, he’s here now for his (otherwise) live action debut, he looks fine, and while his film doesn’t follow in Cats memorably bad paw prints, it never finds a way to be memorable at all.

Anyone who’s followed the Sega video games of the 1990s will feel right at home, as the world-hopping Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) does battle with mad scientist Dr. Robotnik aka “Eggman” (Jim Carrey).

Sonic’s been quite lonely during his uneventful time on Earth, but a helping hand from an aw-shucks small town sheriff (James Marsden) sends them both on a convoluted road trip. Sheriff Tom wants to prove himself a hero, while Sonic just wants a friend.

Cue the strings – no wait! Dr. Eggman and his robot drones are closing in! Muuuahahahaha!

Carrey sets his mugging level on stun, but really, with director Jeff Fowler keeping each actor exaggerated and a script-by-committee committed to over-explanation, it doesn’t seem as comical as it should.

Still, Sonic is harmless enough to land somewhere near the top of the dung heap that is video game film adaptations. It’s got a pop culture gag or two that lands, a mid-credits stinger that shows promise for the next chapter, and a pace that never becomes overly laborious.

So after its rough start with the fanboys, you might say Sonic avoids becoming a real…..CATS-tastrophy.

I won’t, but you might.

She’s a Brainiac, Brainiac…

The Female Brain

by Rachel Willis

It seems strange that in 2018, romantic comedies continue to follow the same tired clichés. While some have mined new territory, The Female Brain isn’t taking any risks.

Focusing on four couples, the film explores the ups and downs of relationships through the studies of neurologist Julia (Whitney Cummings, who also co-writes and directs). Looking at how brain chemistry affects the way men and women behave, why they make certain romantic choices, and why they continue to make the same mistakes, Julia seeks to find answers to her own relationship traumas.

The film’s biggest issue is its lack of cohesion. The couples never share screen time, save one moment in which Steven (Deon Cole) and Adam (James Marsden) discuss how their significant others have changed or are trying to change them. And while it seems the couples are part of Julia’s study based on a few voice-overs, that fact is never quite clear. The movie would have been much stronger if it had kept a tighter focus on Julia’s story or found a better way to connect the couples and their foibles to her study.

There is some humor to be found, primarily from Cole and Cecily Strong. SNL veteran Strong shines, and plays well off of NBA veteran Blake Griffin, who does occasionally hold his own against his much funnier on-screen spouse. Unfortunately, most of the comedy falls flat, as the script relies too much on overused stereotypes: Women are either trying to change men or are too emotionally closed off to accept love.

Cummings is a capable actress. As Julia, she is sympathetic while managing to mine the humor from her role. However, as a director, she never manages to find her footing. The film’s pacing is off, resulting in a movie that feels much longer than its actual runtime. Cummings’s script (co-written with Louann Brizendine and Neal Brennan) suffers from banal dialogue. Any potential moments of originality are undermined by reliance on formulaic ideas of romance.

Hiding behind the guise of being scientifically sound in examining the difference between male and female brains, we’re sadly left with a film that reiterates the same stereotypes and problems of many romantic comedies.





A Tenacious D

The D Train

by George Wolf

Funny thing about The D Train…it’s not really funny.

In fact, if Jack Black wasn’t the lead, you’d be hard pressed to describe it as a comedy in the first place. It’s awkward, uncomfortable in spots, slightly amusing in others and carries exactly one big laugh out loud moment. But it also has a big heart, an unexpected social conscience, thoughtful writing and fine performances that make it worth a look.

Black stars as Dan, a socially challenged guy in Pittsburgh who keeps inventing nicknames for himself in hopes that one of them will stick. Think George Costanza and his quest to be called T-Bone, but less abrasive.

Dan remains stoic and upbeat, taking his position as chairman of his 20th high school class reunion committee very seriously…even if none of the other members will include him in their after meeting get-togethers. The RSVPs for the reunion are pretty sparse, but then Dan sees old classmate Oliver Lawless (James Marsden) in a TV commercial for sunscreen and has an epiphany.

He’ll come up with a bogus reason for an L.A. business trip, track Oliver down and convince the homegrown Hollywood star to come back for the reunion. With that, attendance will skyrocket and Dan will finally be the BMOC of his dreams!

It will come as no surprise that things don’t quite go as planned. What is surprising is how the film turns away from comedic high jinks to embrace a little introspection in today’s complicated times. Writers Andrew Mogul and Jarrad Paul (Yes Man) also make their directing debut with The D Train, displaying a commendable, if not completely successful ambition to bring a classic genre some fresh perspective.

While they cast the always funny Kathryn Hahn as Dan’s wife Stacey, she is asked to do nothing at all comedic. Talent wasted? Maybe. Or maybe her sympathetic turn is another way the film keeps you guessing and consistently entertained despite the lack of hilarity.

Both Black and Marsden are perfect, crafting a nice chemistry as they gradually give Dan and Oliver some layers of insecurity and misconception that may look pretty familiar.

You won’t be quoting many lines from The D Train at your next party, but you won’t be regretting the trip either.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 

 





Hopeless Romantic

 

The Best of Me

by George Wolf

 

And lo, the decree came down from the mountain of recycled melodrama:  more Sparks at the multiplex!

There will be an idyllic Southern setting surrounded by water and plenty of pretty white faces. There will be a love story, a couple brought together by destiny but pulled apart by a cruel world. Tragedy. Flashback. Kissing in the rain. Reunion. Then, a final plot twist so over the top and ridiculous it would get laughed out of most creative writing classes.

It’s the Nicholas Sparks formula, and he’s doing all the laughing, every time a truckload of cash backs up to his front door.

His latest novel to hit the big screen is The Best of Me, and it keeps the formula intact with nauseating precision.

Teenagers Amanda (Liana Liberato, spunky) and Dawson (Luke Bracey, bland) promised forever back in the 90s, but couldn’t make it past high school. Twenty years later, they’re brought back to their Louisiana hometown by the death of an old friend.

As the older Amanda and Dawson (Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden) struggle to put the past behind them, frequent flashbacks clue us in to the tragic circumstances that forced them apart.

It’s so much soap opera fodder, with cheap manipulation standing in for actual storytelling.

A look at the writing team responsible for the script reveals Will Fetters, who has not only penned one other awful Sparks adaptation (The Lucky One), but another film that’s even more shamelessly heavy-handed (Remember Me). Hey, they needed a writer who could provide that Nicholas Sparks feeling and apparently, this guy has it in spades.

Director Michael Hoffman (The Last Station/Soapdish) makes sure everything looks dreamily perfect and really, that’s all he was hired to do. There’s a good reason this isn’t a Coen brothers project, after all.  The goal is style over substance, and to make a Sparks movie, not a good movie.

Well done, then.

 

Verdict-1-5-Stars

 

 





2 Cool

 

by George Wolf

 

Last year, director Baltasar Kormakur and star Mark Wahlberg managed to make the heist thriller Contraband a good bit better than it probably should have been.

This year they up the ante, utilizing a snappy script, one Mr. Denzel Washington and a solid ensemble cast to make 2 Guns one of the most entertaining films of the summer.

Granted, it may be forgotten by fall, but right now, as a weak film season winds down, this type of stylish fun is welcome. And it’s all rooted in the undeniable chemistry of the two leads.

Wahlberg is “Stig,” an undercover naval intelligence officer, and Denzel is Bobby, an undercover DEA agent. Though they’re working together to infiltrate a drug cartel, neither knows the other is one of the good guys.

A few double crosses later, and they’ve got a ruthless drug lord (Edward James Olmos), a sleazy CIA boss (Bill Paxton, gleefully over the top) and a crooked navy officer (James Marsden)  threatening to kill them both unless they can hand over a massive load of stolen cash.

Kormakur sets the hook with a taut, mysterious opening, then maintains a crisp pace full of flashbacks, callbacks, and impressively staged action. Based on a series of graphic novels, the script from Blake Masters is witty but not overly comedic, and elaborate but not convoluted, while also managing to land a few jabs on U.S.- Mexican relations.  Nicely done.

Wahlberg’s performances always seem to reflect the level of talent around him, and he is very effective here, relishing the chance to be the comic relief side of a badass duo. Washington seems equally engaged, letting you feel the wheels turning as Bobby coolly  figures out what’s what. Their fun is contagious, to the audience as well as their fellow actors.

An engaging mix of buddy cop caper, spy thriller and Wild West shoot em up, 2 Guns is just the kick in the pants this movie summer needs.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars