Uncle Drew Review

Over the years, there have been many humorous sports movies. I’ve laughed at everything from Dodgeball to Caddyshack to Major League. I even love Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. Whether it is focusing on the players or the fans, there is something about the intensity of sports that can provide great fodder for laughs. Unfortunately for Uncle Drew, the writing fails to live up to this tradition of funny sports movies and it failed to make me laugh more than a passing chuckle. The film is based on a series of Pepsi ads and that’s where it should have stayed.

Uncle Drew stars Lil Rel Howery as Dax, a man who grew up in an orphanage with nothing to inspire him but the NBA. Unfortunately, as a teen, he has an embarrassing defeat on the basketball court at the hands of rival Mookie, played by Nick Kroll. As revenge, Dax becomes a coach and decides to enter a team in the streetball  tournament called The Rucker Classic.

After a long introduction, Dax ends up without a team and he begrudgingly recruits a local legend, Uncle Drew, to join his roster. Drew, played by Kyrie Irving (just like in the Pepsi ads), then gathers his senior citizen friends including Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, and Lisa Leslie to join the team. The first hour of the film is Dax being introduced to the characters who have a variety of old people problems – one is blind, one is in a wheelchair, one has a grudge against Drew, etc. None of this was interesting and it certainly wasn’t funny. There is even an especially egregious scene where Preacher (Chris Webber) is baptizing an infant and it is swapped out for a doll and then close-ups of the baby in the most awkward ways. I was cringing during the entire scene.

Eventually we get to the big game and it plays out fairly predictably. As I was leaving the theater, a woman was saying, “it was a love letter to basketball,” so clearly the sentiment paid off for her but, as only a marginal basketball fan, I wasn’t moved by the story.

However, the biggest strength to Uncle Drew is the makeup. They do a very good job making Kyrie Irving and company look old. It doesn’t look like prosthetics and feels convincing.

Other than that. Uncle Drew is not for me. The biggest problem is none of the jokes landed. I laughed one time at a joke about the Chris Webber character. That’s it. I realize humor is subjective but my theater had nothing but a few courtesy chuckles. So I wasn’t the only one not laughing.

Also a few characters meant to be funny came across as very irritating. I realize, for example, Nick Kroll is meant to be an antagonist but he was extremely grating as Dax’s rival. More annoying was that ‘humor,’ often in supposed comedies, when characters complaining about each other is supposed to be funny. All that does is make your characters shrill and unlikable. You see this a lot with the nagging female trope; it’s not funny and usually comes across as more than a little sexist. Tiffany Haddish is billed as a lead character but she’s really not in the film much and was an overbearing harpy the entire time. It certainly didn’t make me laugh. 

In fairness, the basketball stars all do a serviceable job with what is given to them. There is a particularly nice moment of reconciliation between Kyrie Irving and Shaquille O’Neal that is well done and sweet.

Despite some positives, Uncle Drew just wasn’t funny. It was always an uphill climb to transform a 30 second Super Bowl ad into a feature film but with a good script this could have worked. Sadly, it was a bit of a chore to sit through and one of the worst studio films I’ve seen this year. As they say, “funny solves all” and this was depressingly lacking in funny.

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How to Save Jurassic Park

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One of the most impactful moments of my movie-going life occurred when I was 12 years old and saw a little movie called Jurassic Park. I loved it so much I saw it again, and again until I had seen it 7 times in the theater. My young brain was completely caught up in the magic of the great storytelling. I had never seen images like the dinosaurs on the screen. I had never felt such fear, awe, majesty and excitement. It was exhilarating! Even now years later, Jurassic Park still holds up as quite possibly the greatest blockbuster entertainment ever made.

Having loved the first one so much you can imagine my excitement when they announced a sequel and Steven Spielberg would be directing again! This was thrilling! And then I went to the theater and had my first real disappointment. It was cluttered, boring and thoroughly lame.

The rest of the sequels have continued the trend of the Lost World and been very disappointing. The most recent example is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I liked it a little bit better than Jurassic World because the director J.A. Bayona is talented enough to put together some engaging set pieces. However, some plot choices were idiotic and much of the movie the dinosaurs are in cages because that makes sense…

So it begs the question- what would I do to make a better Jurassic movie or is it just a hopeless endeavor? Do you have to get so convoluted trying to get people back to the dinosaurs that it just doesn’t work any more? Well, like I have saved Superman, Alice in Wonderland and Tim Burton I have a proposal to what I think would fix Jurassic Park (BTW the hints at Jurassic World 3 left in Fallen Kingdom sound completely awful so this is strictly a fantasy pitch).

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The group could be kind of similar to the diverse collection of people on the show Lost

My main premise is to take the idea of the Jurassic Park 3 but actually execute it well. You start out with a cruise ship that is shipwrecked onto the Isla Nublar. They have no way of reaching anyone and nothing to do but to try and survive until another ship comes.

Do not have any of the original characters but create new characters that have compelling backstories about why they came on the cruise. You could have a mixture of workers, elites, young singles looking for love etc. You can cast charismatic actors that are fun together and of course you need to have some people who are jerks that can be eaten by the dinosaurs LOL.

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Naturally you are going to want to have lots of dinosaur action and antics but don’t forget to have moments of awe and wonder as well. One big mistake in Jurassic World was killing off all the herbivores so there was no moments to stop and breathe. In Jurassic Park we get a lovely little break where Lexi, Tim and Dr Grant get to pet a brachiosaurus. As an audience we need this moment both as a breather for the characters but to make the dangerous dinosaur moments more chilling and real.

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I would also make it a priority in my movie to create real characters that have meaningful conversations. Sure the dinosaurs are great in Jurassic Park but so are the characters. One of the best moments in the film is when Dr Sattler and John Hammond are eating ice cream and Ellie calls Hammond out on his BS. He is waxing on about his dreams (letting us get to know him) and she basically dope slaps him and says “all that matters is the people that we love”. We learn so much about these characters in one quick scene of dialogue and so we care about them when they face all the action and tension.

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The thing I like about this shipwreck idea is that it wouldn’t require some convoluted reason for them going back to the island and it wouldn’t necessitate some ridiculous excuse for mutant or militarized dinosaurs. It’s just people on an island with dinosaurs trying to survive. That’s enough. That’s all you need. These other sequels have just gotten too stupid for my liking and I can’t deal with it. Jurassic Park was smart! It can be done.

Of course some of the characters would fall to the dinosaurs but eventually a ship would come or they would find some way to signal from the old Park headquarters and be rescued. And as they are being rescued the T-rex would be coming towards them but they zoom away just in time. This would be exciting and a thrilling moment for all involved. Don’t worry about setting things up for a sequel or starting a cinematic universe. Just make a fun monster movie with a good script and it will make tons of money. I know I would LOVE it!

So there you have it. That’s my idea for a Jurassic Park movie. I think almost anyone will agree my idea is at least better than whatever ridiculous nonsense they have planned for Jurassic World 3.

Sigh…What could have been.

How would you save Jurassic Park? And what do you think of my idea? Let me know in the comments section

Blind Spot 30: The Green Mile

When I was trying to think of movies to see for this year’s blind spot picks I remembered a conversation I had with a friend who was shocked I hadn’t seen the 1999 film The Green Mile. It just never appealed to me and came out at a time I wasn’t watching rated R movies. So, the blind spot series was the perfect spot to finally cover this well regarded flick. Unfortunately this is one of those classics that didn’t work for me. I can see why it would work for others but I didn’t care for it.

There is a trope in literature and film called the “magical negro”. This is defined as ” a supporting black stock character in American cinema who is portrayed as coming to the aid of a film’s white protagonists and who often possess mystical powers” Director Spike Lee went on to describe The Green Mile as the “super-duper magical negro” and I certainly agree with him.

The Green Mile is based on a novel by Stephen King and tells the story of a prison warden named Paul Edgecomb played by Tom Hanks who gets a new prisoner named John Coffey played by Michael Clark Duncan. John is on death row for the rape and murder of 2 little girls. He is joined by other prisoners played by Sam Rockwell, Michael Jeter and more.

However, John is no ordinary criminal. He has special powers that can heal and make things last forever (and the lights go out). Paul is even cured of a bladder infection and the wife of one of the prison wardens of a brain tumor.

The strength of The Green Mile definitely lies with its performances. Tom Hanks and Michael Clark Duncan are the particular standouts and Duncan was nominated for an Oscar for his work.

Unfortunately the movie can never shake the uncomfortable and trope-filled premise. I do not understand why they didn’t have the prison block more diverse. This would make it feel more like a person with powers instead of the magic black person sent to be a literal savior for the white people (and of course he doesn’t get saved by them at any time). It’s unfortunate.

Adding to all of this The Green Mile is over 3 hours long and very tedious to watch. Not a whole lot happens and the characters are very unpleasant. At about the 30 minute mark I was ready for this uncomfortable experience to be over. I am sure it is a film made with the best of intentions but it’s just not for me.

Ocean’s 8 Review

In my Most Anticipated Films of 2018 I had the heist film Oceans 8 at my 6th spot. I loved the trailers and felt the gender swap concept made the most sense for a heist film, as many women have all female friends. So, suffice it to say I went into this film with very high expectations, hoping I would love it. Now that I have seen it, it’s a decent film but didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

The biggest strength of Oceans 8 is the cast led by Sandra Bullock as the sister to the original film series lead Danny Ocean. She has just been let out of prison and is ready to implement a heist that she has been planning during her incarceration. She recruits Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter and Awkwafina to make her plan work. These women have chemistry and do a good job working effortlessly together.

I also thought once Ocean’s 8 got going with the heist it became fun and enjoyable. The plan could have had a few more hitches the team would need to deal with but it was breezy and sold with class. The fashion and costumes are also top notch and really sell the whole Met Gala heist angle.

Unfortunately there are problems with Oceans 8. Mostly the set up for the heist did not interest me. They had so many scenes with characters huddled together looking at screens. This never works in movies and is a great way to guarantee I will be super bored.  In the original Oceans 11 remake they did a better job setting up for the heist and building up the characters or at least explaining their character archetype within the group.

The other problem I had with Oceans 8 is I hated the score by the usually reliable Daniel Pemberton. It had a lot of organ music, which I felt was extremely strange for this hip modern movie and it was loud, overbearing and distracting. It didn’t fit at all with the film.

So, Oceans 8 ends up being a mixed review for me. There is entertainment to be had, especially once the heist gets going,  and the cast is amazing. However, the setup is a bit of a slog and the score doesn’t work. I’d say it is an ok rental but I was hoping it would be better. Oh well.

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Pixar 41: Bao

Watching the latest Pixar movie is always a treat but sometimes we get a special bonus of a new Pixar short. I loved the latest Incredibles 2 film and will post my review of that sometime this week, but I thought I would talk about the short that played before it: the delightful Bao.

Much has been talked about Bao being the first Pixar short directed by a woman, Domee Shi. While I think that is great, I worry that it may give the appearance of praise based on the sex of the director rather than the actual quality of the short. Shi is not only a trailblazer but did a tremendous job creating a short that is sweet and heartfelt that any parent (or child for that matter) will be able to relate with.

Bao is an allegorical tale about a woman who struggles with her son growing up and misses the love he used to show her. One day she is making dumplings and to her shock one of the dumplings smiles at her and becomes a type of child to her that grows and makes friends. This dumpling boy is adorable.

As Boa Boy grows the Mother must deal with her own feelings of loneliness and ultimate rejection. Of course, this story is an allegory of her struggles with her actual son (who looks hilariously like Bao Boy). But I don’t think you have to be a parent to relate to her feelings. What person hasn’t struggled with change or felt rejected by a loved one? Everyone goes through tough times and the ending with her and her son was pitch-perfect and very truthful.

Plus, if I was Disney I would have a whole Bao themed restaurant in Disneyland because all of the food looked so delicious. I love bao buns with roasted pork and vegetables in them. Yum! I also love the sweet rolls that become a symbol of forgiveness at the end of the short. They are so good!

I don’t think Bao is one of my all time favorite Pixar shorts but it was definitely in the higher portion. I really enjoyed the watercolor-influenced backgrounds, the adorable character design and the score by Toby Chu.

Bao was sweet and lovely short and in many ways reminded me of Sanjay’s Super Team with its focus on a parent and child relationship. Both are great, and I hope Disney puts a new volume of Pixar shorts out soon so we can watch all of these more recent entries together.

What did you think of Bao? How does it rank for you amongst all the Pixar shorts?

Current Mini Reviews

Hi everyone! I know I’m woefully behind on writing reviews for all of you on what I have been seeing at the cinemas. Honestly all of my free time lately has been taken up with both of my podcasts- Rachel’s Reviews (we just posted our 6th episode of Talking Disney on Big Hero 6) and Hallmarkies (we have been keeping up 3 podcasts a week including amazing interviews like this one I did with film critic William Bibbiani). I am super proud of every last podcast I do and am working hard to continually improve.

I also had the incredible opportunity to interview Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit for rotoscopers.com. You can read the interview here. It was one of those moments where I pinch myself to see if this is actually my life! I actually got Nick Park to say “I’m a clay man myself.” How cool is that?

Anyway all of this is to explain why I am doing one of my classic ‘Current Mini Reviews’ posts. Not because I don’t love some of these movies because I do but I am just running out of time.

Lean on Pete-

Director Andrew Haigh is rapidly becoming one of my favorite current working directors. I loved his film 45 Years from 2015 and I loved his recent film Lean on Pete. It’s a simple movie that some will call boring but I found it to be pure truth. As we see Charley struggle to survive and save a race horse named Pete it is full of devastating moments and great character work. It reminded me of Hell of Highwater and I may even like this better. It’s a movie that has stayed with me and I just keep thinking about it. Charlie Plummer is tremendous in the lead role. If you can find it near you see it. It’s very special.

Smile Worthy

Overboard-

The idea of remaking Overboard is a very suspect one because it is a film that lives and falls on the chemistry and comedic chops of its leads- Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. It starts off a little awkwardly but it becomes a very sweet and funny film about family and unexpected romance. Now they have gender swapped it with Eugenio Derbez and Anna Faris and it is not the trainwreck I thought it would be. Derbez, in particular, gets as much as he can out of the material. However, they took out all the funny and replaced it with sincerity which didn’t work. It made it kind of boring and sitcomy. If you are dying to see it then rent it but it’s mostly a skip.

Frown Worthy

Tully-

Tully is kind of a frustrating experience. We actually had the movie crash in the middle of the 2nd act and I was so energetic about the film up until that point. The acting by Charlize Theron and the rest of the cast was phenomenal and the struggles of taking care of an infant very lovingly portrayed. The script by Diablo Cody felt emotionally true and Jason Reitman did a great job with the direction. Unfortunately, they got the movie working again and the last act was a major letdown. Instead of just telling a slice of life, honest story, they have to Hollywoodify it up with a twist that did not work at all for me. I don’t know what is more frustrating a terrible film or a film that gets so close and then skunks it? Darn!

Still it’s worth a watch especially if you are a Mom for the performances alone

A Reluctant Smile Worthy

Won’t You Be My Neighbor-

I actually got to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor for a second time last week. I saw it first at Sundance and then at a special event for the Utah Film Center and the local PBS affiliate KUED’s 60th Birthday! It was a super fun event to be a part of but watching the movie again reminded me how much I love it. I used to watch Mr Rogers Neighborhood growing up and loved it. In the world of Metoo where every famous person seems to have a skeevy dark side to them how great to learn about how genuinely good Fred Rogers was. His crusade to make people feel loved and included is just what we all need right now. Even if you didn’t watch his show I think you will be moved by Fred’s story and the impact of his message.

Smile Worthy

The Rider-

The Rider is an impressive indie directed by Chloé Zhao starring untrained actor Brady Jandreau and his family telling a raw and intimate story loosely based on his life. You feel like a fly on the wall as Brady tries to put his life together after a devastating injury on the rodeo circuit. His real life father and sister try to give him advice as he debates going back to riding or trying to find a new passion where his life won’t be at risk. The cinematography and lighting is superb and Zhao does a great job getting performances out of her cast; however, there was something that kept me from emotionally connecting with the film. Unlike Lean on Pete, I never really cried in The Rider and I’m not sure why. So in the end I admired it more than I liked it but I still would recommend watching it if you get the chance.

Smile Worthy

Upgrade-

I saw Upgrade because I had some time to kill before a free screening and I’d heard good things. It was definitely out of my comfort zone with the violence causing me to close my eyes on several occasions but I think it is good to push outside our comfort zones every now and then. Upgrade has a lot of interesting ideas with a mixture of Ex-Machina and Jason Bourne but the script felt amateurish and didn’t really work for me. It’s the kind of movie where it seems like if it had just one more rewrite it would be great. Still if you love scifi action than you will probably enjoy it.

Meh Worthy (if I have to pick Frown Worthy)

RBG-

I love a good documentary and RBG about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a good one. I disagree with many of her positions personally but it doesn’t mean I can’t admire her tenacity and spirit. I especially loved learning about her long and supportive marriage.

Smile Worthy

TAG-

TAG is an R rated comedy based on a true story about a group of men that have been playing tag for 30 years! Jeremy Renner is the friend who has never been tagged and the men go to try and tag him at his wedding. The trailers for this looked really dumb but I heard good things and it was pretty funny. It is not in the same league as Game Night but it will make you laugh enough to have a good time. It definitely earns its R rating and can be very over-the-top but the men had pretty good chemistry, which helps sell some of the shenanigans. I enjoyed it.

Smile Worthy