ABC has the prestige of Kermit and Miss Piggy kicking-off their Tuesday night lineup. But with mixed reviews of the first few episodes of "The Muppets" (the "Pilot" was loaded with celebrity cameos, adult references and a quirky, off-putting tone) and a 35% viewership drop from Week 1 to Week 2, things aren't looking so good. And you can't discount the competition. The two new sitcoms on FOX will definitely give The Muppets a run for their money.
"Grandfathered" marks the TV return of John Stamos, who plays Jimmy, a 50-year-old bachelor and restaurant owner who suddenly finds-out that he is not only a father to Gerald ("Drake & Josh"'s Josh Peck) but also a grandfather to little Edie. Watching Stamos' scenes with the baby girl in the "Pilot" did bring me back to his "Full House" Uncle Jesse days, and there's nothing wrong with that (and having Bob Saget as a restaurant patron at the end of the "Pilot" was also a nice touch.) But beyond this obvious, yet appropriate comparison, the inaugural episode of "Grandfathered" was consistently funny with a high number of great one-liners and some clever moments, including a decent homage to "Kramer vs. Kramer".
And then there's "The Grinder", which features Rob Lowe playing Dean, the star of a fictional TV courtroom drama called "The Grinder", which just ended its eight-season run. Dean returns to his small-town home to watch the series finale with his family, including brother Stewart (Fred Savage from "The Wonder Years"), who is a real-life lawyer. But Stewart isn't exactly the most polished attorney and Dean thinks he can use his knowledge from the show to help Stewart help his clients.
"The Grinder" relies heavily on Lowe to carry everything else along, and he absolutely delivers. Lowe is terrific playing a Hollywood actor - charming, confident and playfully over-dramatic in everyday situations and conversations. He's the reason to watch this show. My one concern going forward is that the weekly storylines may be more of the same: Stewart struggling and Dean assisting by smooth-talking his way through the case.
Hopefully both "Grandfathered" and "The Grinder" provide for breezy, good-hearted entertainment over the course of their seasons (how ever long they will be). And if they both become hits, they may just dims the lights on Kermit & Co.
Matt Damon plays an astronaut stuck on Mars in director Ridley Scott’s “The Martian”. But unlike another recent space saga - 2013’s Oscar-winning “Gravity” - “The Martian” doesn’t have enough dramatic pull to last its entire 2 hours and 20 minutes.
This “Martian” is not named Marvin, but rather Mark. On the 18th day of their Ares III exploration of the red planet, Mark Watney and the five other astronauts get caught outside in a severe storm. A giant piece of debris flies into Watney, sending him flying-off into the darkness. The other crew members, led by mission commander Lewis (played by Jessica Chastain), can’t locate Mark and presume he’s dead. And they must abort their mission and quickly leave the planet to save themselves.
But - guess what? Watney wakes-up the next morning and realizes two things: he’s the only person left on Mars and he’s probably going to die. However, he’s not going down without a fight. Staying positive, he comes-up with plans to grow food, because, as he says while holding an instruction manual to the video camera for a log entry: “Luckily - I’m a botanist!” This is one of at least a dozen notable corny one-liners delivered throughout what should be a very serious film.
Once NASA chief Teddy Sanders (played by Jeff Daniels), a character you’ll hate if you’re always the last person to learn about something important, marketing chief Annie (an interesting casting choice in Kristen Wiig) and Ares missions director Vincent (Chiwetel Ejiofor) find-out that Mark is alive, they decide they must (as the poster reads) “Bring Him Home”.
Though “The Martian” never gets dull, the first half is far more compelling than the second, which features an overly cinematic and cliché-filled finale. And only early on does Damon get a chance to show-off his acting abilities, when dealing with his situation and possible fate.
Scott has made a good-looking film that doesn’t feature any of the noisy sound issues of last year’s “Damon and Chastain space movie “Interstellar”. What “The Martian” lacks are a lot of actual outer space scenes. We get more atmosphere inside mission control than in the real atmosphere. And unlike “Gravity”, which focused mainly on one person with one goal for the entire time, “The Martian” is filled with distractions, from the long list of supporting characters to the absolutely unnecessary 70’s disco music score. Scott was obviously trying to mimic the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy”’s 80s soundtrack, but the attempt fails badly, adding to the film’s uneven tone.
“The Martian” is solid entertainment, but it’s scattered and too cute for its own good. In short - this is far from an “Out of this World” experience. On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Martian” gets a C+.
Ten years ago, Anne Hathaway played the personal assistant to high-strung fashion magazine mogul Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) in "The Devil Wears Prada". Now, a decade later, Hathaway is the passionate, stressed-out, bike-riding at the office boss of her own successful online fashion company and 72-year-old Robert De Niro is "The Intern" -though he quickly becomes much more than that. The latest comedy from writer/director Nancy Meyers ("It's Complicated", "Something's Gotta Give") isn't about two people falling in love, but rather two people needing and finding a new best friend.
De Niro's Ben Whitaker was a successful businessman for 40 years - much of that spent at a now extinct phone book company. A widower and recently retired, Ben is looking for new purpose in his life. He reads an ad for a senior citizen internship program at the internet start-up "About the Fit", run by Hathaway's workaholic Jules Ostin. After a few interviews, Ben is chosen for the program, and he's picked to be Jules' personal intern. At first she's not thrilled with the idea of having to interact closely with a man twice her age. But as situations begin to develop with Jules, both professionally and with her personal life, she comes to rely on Ben, and he gets more involved with his new position, bringing some much-needed stability into her modern, out-of-control life.
The first-half dialogue is light, brisk and occasionally sharp, hitting on topics such as old school vs. new school and sexism in the workplace. A couple of situations are played-up for big laughs, including Ben's sessions with company masseuse Fiona (Rene Russo) as well as an "Ocean's 11" style sequence that's a bit over-played. The tone changes dramatically in the second half, and because of that, and the investment you now have in these characters, the final half hour packs a pretty good emotional punch.
Over the course of "The Intern", through a series of events and situations, ranging from humorous to heartbreaking, and all quite authentic, these two somewhat lost souls realize how much they need each other. There are numerous scenes in which De Niro and Hathaway are alone together on screen, and they all generate a special kind of magic. De Niro is charismatic, charming, confident and heartwarming as a seasoned gentleman with depth and class. And Hathaway is consistently believable as a woman struggling to balance her business and family responsibilities. They may just be the best movie pair of the year. And, for me, this is the strongest substantial performance of Hathaway's career.
Meyers has pulled-off something rare these days for a big-studio Hollywood comedy. She's overcome a fairly formulaic premise by combining a smart, heartfelt script with great work from two knockout leads. Here's hoping the Critics Choice and Golden Globes voters keep it in mind for several of the Comedy categories. I had a feeling that "The Intern" could be something special and it exceeded my expectations.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Intern" gets an A-.
Sony Pictures Animation welcomes you back to “Hotel Transylvania” with a sequel to their 2012 all-star “monster” comedy. Unfortunately, you may not want to check-in, as “HT2” suffers from a scattered script and uneven pacing (aka the Adam Sandler Syndrome).
Sandler earned high marks for his voice performance of Dracula in the original “Hotel Transylvania”, doing a updated, but still honorable impression of the iconic character. For this follow-up, Sandler took on duties of co-writer - and his fingerprints are all over the too-thin story with very little comic bite. And this time Dracula sounds a lot more like Sandler - maybe because he gave himself a lot more lines.
As the film begins Dracula’s daughter Mavis (voiced nicely by Selena Gomez) and human boyfriend Johnny (Andy Samberg) are getting married. Flash forward a year and Mavis is pregnant. Flash again - little Dennis arrives. And with one final flash Dennis is about to turn 5 - and no one still knows whether he’s a human boy or a vampire. And Drac is worried. If Dennis doesn’t get his fangs by his birthday, he’ll stay a human forever, and Mavis and Johnny will move to California to live near his parents.
Parts of “HT2” work quite well - including pockets from an extended section in which Dracula rounds-up fellow monsters Frankenstein, The Mummy, the Werewolf and the Invisible Man to re-live their glory days and show Dennis how to be scary. Problem is he and his buddies have become too “humanized”, and the modern world has softened them up. Meantime, Dennis’ biggest inspirations are Batman and his favorite TV character, the puppet “Cake Monster” - a friendly jab at a certain, blue Sesame Street creature. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these clever elements to keep the laughs coming for 90 minutes.
As you’d expect the animation is strong and a few aerial sequences (though simply included as time-fillers) are visually impressive. But Sandler, co-writer Robert Smigel and director Genndy Tartakovsky, jammed-in way too many one-liners, satirical references and silly gags, and most have no pay off. Clearly a case of quantity over quality - another recent Sandler trademark.
The casting of Mel Brooks as Dracula’s father Vlad was perfect, but saving him for the final 15 minutes and giving him almost nothing to do was yet another mistake. On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Hotel Transylvania 2” gets a C.
"Mississippi Grind" is a solid and engaging drama about the extreme highs and lows of the world of gambling. This low-budget indie more effectively portrays this culture (just how quickly you can make money - and how destructive it can be when you lose it) than both Mark Wahlberg's recent remake of "The Gambler" and Will Smith's con/crime caper "Focus" from earlier this year. Credit goes to writers and directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck as well as the performances from leads Ben Mendelsohn ("The Dark Knight Rises") and Ryan Reynolds.
Mendelsohn's Gerry is a struggling real estate agent with a gambling addiction. He owes a lot of people a lot of money. At a casino in his home state of Iowa Gerry meets-up with Curtis (played by Reynolds) at a poker table. Curtis seems like a guy who's just passing through town...and who's passed through more than his share of towns. The two hit it off and eventually decide to travel down the Mississippi to New Orleans to take part in a major poker tournament, which promises a payoff that could change both of their lives.
The two make stops in cities to gamble along the way, including St. Louis, where Curtis reunities with on-again/off-again girlfriend Simone ("American Sniper"'s Sienna Miller). Boden and Fleck do a nice job, with quick shots of the buildings, restaurants, theaters and casinos in each area, providing a real feel for the roadtrip the men are on. Even at nighttime, the grim and gritty cinematography sets the perfect tone.
A strong theme throughout "Mississippi Grind" is the idea of rainbows bringing Curtis and Gerry good luck. The symbolism is not heavy-handed and works quite well. However, some of the scenes in the second half get a little messy and aren't as compelling as the set-up, particularly a section when Gerry decides to re-connect with his ex-wife. And the ending doesn't quite match-up with the feel of the rest of the movie. But Reynolds (who's having a highlight year with this performance and his work in "Woman in Gold") and Mendelsohn make us want to stay with "Mississippi Grind" to its somewhat predictable ending. Even after all they go through, there may just be that pot of gold at the end of their rainbow.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Mississippi Grind" gets a B-.