Friday, November 17, 2017

"Daddy's Home 2" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Daddy's Home 2" as well as DVDs "The Book of Henry" and "The Midwife."  The Book of the Week is "Cherry Bombe - The Cookbook."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die" with the western "Silver Lode."]

Daddy's Home 2

Brad (Will Ferrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) are back and they are getting along fine until they not only have to deal with a blended family Christmas but they also have to deal with their own Dads.

I enjoy a good comedy.  I really do. I know you are probably thinking I don't have a sense of humor because I have been trashing so many comedies lately. I am even questioning that myself after sitting through "A Bad Moms Christmas" with nary a chuckle.  But I know I do have a good sense of humor. I really do like a good comedy and I like to laugh.  But the operative word here is "good" and the main criterion for a comedy should be getting you to laugh, right?  So hope springs eternal, and I keep watching comedies hoping for the best.  

However, with that said, I didn't hold out much hope for this sequel and was about to hold a funeral for the death of the American comedy after seeing so many disappointing comedies of late with "A Bad Moms Christmas" being the final straw, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard myself laughing. 

I actually enjoyed this film.  

Now granted, my expectations were low but there were some chuckles to be had.  Was it really, really funny?  No. Was it devoid of the usual comedy and Christmas clichés?  No. Did I feel all warm and fuzzy afterwards?  Sort of.
Did I laugh?  Yes.

If you saw the first "Daddy's Home," you know that Brad is married to Dusty's ex-wife, Sara (Linda Cardellini) and is a step-dad to her children.  Brad is a bit of a softy.  OK, he's a wimp in contrast to Dusty who is a handsome, tough man's man. He's the cool Dad where Brad is the sensitive one.  Brad had been intimidated by Dusty and struggled to be accepted by his step-children, but by the end of the first film, Dusty and Brad were friends and Dusty had remarried with a step-daughter and an intimidating ex-husband of his own to deal with.

So when the sequel begins, Dusty and Brad are such good friends and doing such a good job of co-parenting that Brad actually brings Dusty hot chocolate when he is attending to the parent drop off at school and when the kids express disappointment that they have to go back and forth at Christmas Dusty and Brad both decide to do one big family Christmas for both families.

That all seems hunky dory until Dusty's Dad, Kurt (Mel Gibson), unexpectedly shows up and Brad's Dad, Don (John Lithgow) shows up without his wife. Just as Brad is a wimp who can't seem to do much right and Dusty is a macho guy, Don is a Dad who greets Brad with a big juicy kiss on the lips and Kurt is an ex-astronaut tough guy disdainful of displays of affection.  In fact, Kurt is disdainful of almost everything about Dusty and his life choices especially this whole co-Dad thing Dusty and Brad have doing.  Kurt certainly doesn't approve of someone like Brad raising his grandchildren, but Dusty doesn't care because Kurt hasn't been around much and Dusty doesn't approve of Kurt either.  Let the tension ensue!

To give you a taste of the difference between the grandfathers:

When Don arrives and greets his grandchildren he tells them a joke:

"Why do ducks have feathers?"  "To cover up their butt quacks."

Kurt, not wanting to be outdone by Don in front of the grandkids, starts to tell a joke too:

"Two hookers wash up on the beach..."

Dusty cuts him off mid-joke.

So we quickly get the idea of the kinds of interactions we are going to get between the two grandfathers. 

When Kurt decides that they should all go spend the holiday at a lodge in the mountains, there are all kinds of opportunities for hijinks and things to go wrong.  And they do. Kurt certainly doesn't approve of Brad and Dusty co-parenting so think of Kurt as a kind of devil who looks for opportunities to drive a wedge between Dusty and Brad.

One can't help but compare this film to "A Bad Moms Christmas." "Bad Moms" added extra Moms and this one has extra Dads. Both use the device of counting down the days until Christmas for the inevitable big finale. "Bad Moms" had a disapproving grandparent in Christine Baranski and here we have Mel Gibson's Kurt.  There are overly precocious kids in both movies and both have sentimental Christmas endings. 

Except the big difference is the fact that "Daddy's Home 2" actually has some funny bits in it and "A Bad Moms Christmas" does not.

For example, those of us who, growing up, were forbidden to "fiddle with the thermostat," can relate to a little scene where Dusty's step-daughter is discovered turning up the thermostat to 85 because she likes to sleep with the windows open and all of the Dads give Dusty a hard time for not being clear with his step-daughter about "fiddling with the thermostat."  To them, it's the parenting equivalent of letting your kid run wild.

Though I am not a huge fan of pratfalls and physical humor in order to get laughs, Ferrell is the king of that sort of thing and there is a funny scene where all of the Christmas decorations get caught in his snow blower and the snow blower ends up on the roof and another where Kurt decides real men cut down their own Christmas trees in the forest and Brad cuts down a cell phone tower by accident.  I know, very broad humor but it's still pretty funny when Will Ferrell does it.

I have never been a big Mark Wahlberg fan, probably because of the kinds of movies he usually stars in - action films about firefighters or soldiers.  But I really enjoyed him in this.  His stoic acting approach was just right as a foil for Will Ferrell's over-the-top antics and the two together are very funny and have a lot of chemistry.  Likewise, John Lithgow's Don is sweet and a good foil for Gibson's macho pot-stirring Kurt. 

And speaking of Mel Gibson, he is a revelation in this.  As a womanizing lothario who was never there for Dusty and who can't bring himself to tell him he loves him, Mel Gibson still has the looks to carry off the lothario part and the machismo to be believable as a man lacking affection.  He plays it straight and is the perfect disapproving observer of all of the craziness.

Written and directed by Sean Anders, despite a few R-rated moments, this one is more toned down than the first "Daddy's Home" and makes for a fun Christmas movie that most of the family would enjoy.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you want to see a funny Christmas comedy, see this one, not "A Bad Moms Christmas."  And see? I do have a sense of humor after all.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


The Book of Henry (2017)

With instructions from her son's detailed notebook, a mother tries to rescue a young girl from her abusive step-father.

Naomi Watts stars as Susan Carpenter, a single mom with two sons: Henry (Jaeden Lieberher), a seeming genius and his younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay, who was so wonderful in "Room"), and they all live in a picture perfect town so right away you know there are some secrets and some evil lurking there.

Henry is a bit of a geek, meaning he is very smart and focused on geeky things, such as making Rube Goldberg structures in his elaborate tree house and keeping a notebook of sketches and plans for the future.  He is also advanced beyond his years.  That is established early in the film when we see Henry in class.  All of the students are doing oral reports on "My Legacy," and one kid talks about something trivial and then Henry gets up and gives a serious report about the meaning of life. Let's just say he is gifted. The teachers want Susan to put him in a gifted school but she wants him to experience real life in a regular school (sound familiar?  See "Gifted.")  Likewise, Henry has invested Susan's money in the stock market and built up quite a little nest egg for her. He also balances her check book and pretty much runs the household while Susan likes to play violent video games and get drunk with her friend, Sheila (Sarah Silverman).  She is actually kind of useless and can't seem to make a decision without consulting Henry. 

Henry has the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He has to protect Peter from bullies at school, keep his Mom's money and life in order and even feels compelled to intervene in a domestic dispute at the grocery store.  You wonder, who is the adult here?

Henry may be geeky and have a lot of responsibilities, but he is not above having a crush on his neighbor, Christina (Maddie Ziegler, who you may recognize from "Dance Moms," and yes, she dances in this).  He spies on her from his bedroom window, and one day, he sees some disturbing interactions between her and her stepdad, Glenn (Dean Norris).  He tells Susan and she reports him to CPS but wouldn't you know, Glenn is not only a police commissioner but he has connections at CPS!

But then 30 minutes into the film, Henry dies. 

I am not really giving anything away here because his death is the crux of the film.  Susan discovers Henry's book where, knowing he was going to die, he has laid out an elaborate plan for Susan and Peter to get rid of Glenn and save Christina. Susan decides she needs to do what Henry wants her to do just as she has always done.  In addition to the book, Henry has also left step-by-step audiotapes behind that lead Susan along as she tries to save Christina, a very over-the-top device that gives Lieberher a chance to stay in the film despite the fact that he is dead. I mean, he literally carries on a conversation with this mother from the grave through the audiotapes, but through the ensuing series of events, Susan is finally able to grow up and become the adult she was supposed to be in the first place.

Directed by Colin Trevorrow with a screenplay by Gregg Hurwitz, this film was savaged by the critics, but I didn't think it was that bad.  It was only half bad.  I didn't mind the first half, I didn't mind the kid actors, because you know I had an epiphany about that recently while watching "Goodbye, Christopher Robin," and I didn't really mind the mother who let her son handle all of her finances and basically manage her life. 

But the film fell off a cliff in the second half as Susan follows Henry's instructions to rid the world of the mean Glenn.  I think it must have been when she bought the assault rifle that they lost me.   

Watts can always be counted on to bring in a good performance and Silverman is good at snarky roles like this one. Young Lieberher is an engaging young actor, and I believed him as Henry, except the writer got a bit carried away when Henry was giving the principal hell for not doing something about Christina's situation. Despite how good an actor Lieberher is, that scene was a stretch. Not sure a young kid would get away with talking to the school principal like that, no matter how smart he was. Tremblay, who wowed us in "Room" is also a fine young actor and I'm anxious to see him in "Wonder."

This is one of those movies where the idea is interesting but the execution falters and it goes over the top.  For example, a mother would decide to kill someone based on her son telling her to?  Why didn't anyone talk to Christina about the abuse directly, because what if Henry was wrong about what was going on? And then the ending gets all wrapped up a bit too tidily in a Lifetime Movie kind of way.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you like engaging child actors or far-fetched Lifetime Movies, you might like this, but in general you can probably skip this one. 

The Midwife (2017)

A midwife gets an unexpected visit from her father's ex-mistress.

Claire (Catherine Frot) is a midwife and single mom whose job has been made redundant when the clinic where she works closes.  She gets an unexpected call from her father's ex-mistress, Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve) and discovers that her father has committed suicide.  It is clear that Claire does not approve of Beatrice and wants nothing to do with her. She blames Beatrice for leaving her father (and her) and for her father's death. Beatrice on the other hand wants to make amends with Claire because Beatrice is dying. 

In the meantime, we learn that Claire doesn't eat meat or drink alcohol, the latter an oddity in France and something of a theme that keeps coming up in the film.  She has a garden plot outside of town and she lives with her son, but his girlfriend is pregnant and he plans to move in with her. Claire is an uptight person with a very limited life - just her work, which is now in question, her son, who is leaving her, and her garden.

Catherine on the other hand is a bit of a libertine, a woman who not only enjoys a drink but enjoys a bit of backroom gambling so naturally her reappearance in Claire's life is a disruption, but you know in the end, it's going to be a disruption that Claire needed to shake up her staid, narrow life.

Beatrice has reunited with Claire to make amends and for Claire to help her die in peace. The two eventually bond - two damaged souls - who each in her own way frees the other. 

It's OK that you know that because it's the getting there that is so wonderful in this film.

What could have been a sentimental bit of treacle is saved by the smart script and the actors, who are women of a certain age at the top of their acting game.

Catherine Deneuve is a wonder. 

She has come a long way since she made a huge splash in 1964 as the ingenue in "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."  I mention her often in my writings because she famously said that after 30 a woman has to choose between her butt or her face, meaning you either decide to be a skinny bitch and accept that your face will probably be gaunt and wrinkly or you let your butt get big but benefit from a little plumpness in your face.  She has chosen her face, though she is hardly fat, and I only bring this up because despite the fact that Deneuve has always been one of the great beauties of the cinema, it doesn't seem that vanity has driven her to go the plastic surgery route of so many beautiful actresses and instead has taken her own advice and allowed herself to age gracefully.  And at 74, she is still beautiful and the best part - busy.  She accepts that she is no longer the ingénue and plays age-appropriate parts that allow her to show off her acting range.

But this film is really about Claire who is brought to life by Beatrice's free spirit and through helping her die.  Frot is just wonderful here. Like Deneuve, she is a veteran actress who I loved in "Marguerite," the French version of "Florence Foster Jenkins," for which she won a Best Actress Cesar Award in 2016. Her face speaks volumes and seeing these two actresses together is a wonderful experience.

Where the British are really good at historical dramas, the French are particularly good at one-on-one personal dramas and have no problem making films about men and women of a certain age.  And, of course, they are really good at sex, too especially sex between real people, people who aren't necessarily gorgeous or thin or young.

Written and directed by Martin Provost, this film is a wonderful experience about the power of forgiveness.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is also one of those films where, having seen it, you feel better about life.
(In French with English subtitles)

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

166 (revised) to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Silver Lode (1954)

Four U.S. marshals ride into the town of Silver Lode looking for Dan Ballard so they can bring him in for murder.  The problem is - he says he didn't do it and is given only a short time to prove his innocence.

Dan Ballard (John Payne) arrived in Silver Lode two years ago with $20,000.  Since then he has made a name for himself and is now a successful rancher. Everyone in town likes and respects him.  The town is in the midst of their Fourth of July celebration and Dan is about to marry Rose Evans (Lizabeth Scott), the daughter of the richest man in town, when U.S. Marshals, led by Fred McCarty (Dan Duryea), turn up with a warrant for his arrest.  At first the townspeople can't believe it and stand by Dan, but as time goes by, they slowly start to turn on him and the mob mentality takes over.

Dan asks for two hours to prove his innocence and McCarty reluctantly says OK, thus giving this film a real time aspect as the time Dan has left is equivalent to the running time of the film.

One man against the world trying to prove his innocence. 

This film was made during the heart of the McCarthy era and that is certainly apparent in this film.  I mean, the bad guy's name is McCarty!

Westerns were my Dad's favorite film genre, probably because he wanted to be a cowboy himself.  I watched a lot of them with him and remember when westerns dominated TV back in the 50's and 60's?

I am not a huge fan of westerns, despite all of those hours watching them with my Dad.  I am not sure why I don't like them, because Westerns are really just soap operas or murder mysteries set in the Old West.  I think they were popular because people find them comforting to watch because they know what to expect. 

Most Westerns share the same tropes:

  • Bad guys ride into town looking for trouble
  • The Hero protects the town
  • The Hero may or may not have a dark past
  • There is always a horse chase
  • There is always a gunfight
  • There is always a hooker with the heart of gold (of course, we couldn't say hooker in those westerns of old so we called her a saloon girl)

And my favorite, which almost always happens. 

  • The girl slaps the guy.  The guy slaps her back.  She is still defiant and the guy says, "You've got spirit.  I like women with spirit!"

John Payne made a career out of straight-backed good guys while Dan Duryea made a career for himself playing sleazy bad guys, and this movie is filled with character actors you will recognize.  Women in westerns usually don't have much to do, but at least here the women are the ones who believe in our hero and who ultimately help him.

Director Allan Dwan was a Hollywood fixture, a director whose movie career spanned almost 50 years.  He directed 125 films and many of them were award-winning films such as "The Sands of Iwo Jima." 

There are 38 westerns listed in "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" and you might ask, of all of the western films out there, why is this one a movie we must see before we die?

Why it's a Must See: "[This is...director Allan Dwan's] film par excellance: concise, plain, inventive, fluid, ironic, unspectacular-but-beautiful...Thanks to the director's visual assurance...Silver Lode is one of the best of the American cinema's many underrated Westerns."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

As I often say when reviewing these older films that often have stilted acting and cliched dialogue, many of them don't stand up today, and yes, this film suffers from a bit of that, but it is also a good example of why westerns were so popular: the greatest western trope of all: good overcoming evil.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this western had a kind of noir feel to it.  I call it Western Noir - I think I just made that term up.

***The Book of the Week***

Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook by Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu (2017)

The first cookbook from the team behind the indie magazine Cherry Bombe and the Radio Cherry Bombe podcast.

The subtitle of this delightful cookbook is "Recipes and Stories from 100 of the Most Creative and Inspiring Women in Food Today," and the authors have this to say about their book:

"What makes a recipe special and truly worth your time? For us, it comes down to the person behind the recipe.  Why cook any old dish from some anonymous recipe online when you can make one from a person you love or admire?  We prefer a recipe that's the equivalent of a sweater borrowed from a girlfriend, a dog-eared book your sister lent you, or the weird knickknack that belonged to your grandmother: Dependable, interesting, nostalgia inducing, maybe even a little quirky."

Celebrity chefs, food stylists, bakers and other creative people who are part of the current food scene - all women - share their recipes in this beautiful cookbook.

Some of the contributors include:
  • Melissa Clark, New York Times columnist and cookbook author
  • Padma Lakshmi, star of Top Chef
  • Elisabeth Prueitt, pastry chef and co-founder of Tartine and Tartine Manufactory 
  • Chrissy Teigen, supermodel and bestselling cookbook author
  • Renee Erickson, Seattle celebrity chef
  • Joy Wilson, of Joy the Baker

Here is a taste of a few of the recipes I can't wait to try:

  • Nonna Grazia's Pasta E Piselli (Grandma's Pasta & Peas) - Claudia Ficca
        Who doesn't love a creamy pasta with peas?
         What I want to know is this: if Chrissy Teigen likes to eat as much as
         she says she does, how does she stay so slim?
         Ditto for Padma!
        Renee is a local Seattle chef with some amazingly successful restaurants,
        so glad she is included here.
        I LOVE a good curry!
         I LOVE a good pie!
        I LOVE a great drinky winky!
And I LOVE that this book celebrates women!

The book is beautifully illustrated and would be a welcome addition to any cookbook collection.
Rosy the Reviewer says...this cookbook is da bombe!

Thanks for reading!


See you next Friday 

for my review of  

"Murder on the Orient Express"  


 The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project."


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Check your local library for DVDs and books mentioned.

Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

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