Trailer: The Magnificent Seven (and the Earlier Versions)

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Denzel Washington, Vincent D’Onofrio, Matt Bomer, Ethan Hawke, Vinnie Jones, Peter Sarsgaard, and Chris Pratt star in the remake of “The Magnificent Seven,” and they’ve released a teaser trailer:

This is a good reminder to catch up on the two earlier versions, both excellent. The 1960 all-star Western with Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson has one of the best-remembered scores of all time, by Elmer Bernstein.

It was based on the brilliant “Seven Samurai” from director Akira Kurosawa.

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For Your Netflix Queue Original Version Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Keanu

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MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, language throughout, drug use and sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Very strong language including n-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs, and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action violence, many guns, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 29, 2016
Date Released to DVD: August 1, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01DYX9Y9M

Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2016 Warner Brothers
I laughed so much and so hard at this movie that by the time it was over I had become of those Key and Peele show parking valets. I just wanted to stand in front of a hotel in my red vest saying over and over, “How about them Keys and Peeles, though! How ABOUT them Keys and Peeles!”

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, with a script co-written by Peele and directed by their series director Peter Atencio, have made one of the smartest and funniest comedies of the year, a film that works at every level from slapstick to sophisticated wit to social commentary and slam-bang action, with even a little romance.

Fans of the series will appreciate references like a trip to see a movie starring “Liam Neesons” but even those who have never heard of their Obama anger translator routine or their legendary East-West Bowl player names will immediately understand their characters and their situation.

Clarence (Key) is a happily married father who drives a minivan and listens to George Michael. His cousin Rell (Peele) is a pot-smoking slacker who is devastated following a break-up. But when he adopts an abandoned kitten his spirits lift, and he names it Keanu. When Keanu is stolen by the 17th Street Blips, a gang made up of gangsters who could not make it in the Bloods or the Crips, Clarence and Rel decide to rescue him. This leads to a strip club called HPV with a two-for-one lap dance special, run by drug dealer known as Cheddar (Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man). Clarence and Rell, trying to look tough, introduce themselves as Shark Tank and Tectonic. Clarence wonders how tough someone named Cheddar could be, but Rell points out that “You only name yourself something adorable if you can back it up.” When they explain to Cheddar that they are in the market for a “gangster pet,” Cheddar tells them they can have the kitten he has dubbed New Jack (complete with do-rag and gold chain) if they lead his gang on the delivery of an ultra-potent new drug. A series of encounters, escalating in peril, violence, and hilarity. It would be wrong to spoil more, so I will leave it at this: there is a very funny surprise guest star and Clarence’s professional team-building skills come in handy.

Key and Peele, both biracial, have always found comedy/commentary gold in their ability to reflect on race and culture. By casting themselves as highly and somewhat self-consciously assimilated black men who assume the media-created image of violent black drug dealers, they have added some sharp meta-commentary to a classic set up: fish-out-of-water, normal characters drawn into abnormal circumstances. Rell’s own weed dealer, played by SNL alum Will Forte, is a white man who is also taking on a stereotyped black persona, including cornrows. Clarence, who tries to order a white wine spritzer in the strip club and who tells Rell he sounds like John Ritter, swings into what he thinks is gangster mode when Chedder’s hostile n-word-spouting henchmen approach him. The transformation is wildly funny, both the specificity of it, and the way it fits so seamlessly into our own media-created notion of that archtype and the porous aspects of his new persona as the “real” Clarence keeps peeking out. Clarence and Rell are as innocent and helpless as the adorable kitty in the midst of druglord shoot-outs. Key and Peele are pretty adorable, too, in a gangster pet sort of way.

Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and violence, many guns, characters injured and killed, drugs and drug dealing, sexual references and nudity, strip club, and very strong and crude language including the n-word.

Family discussion: Where did Rel and Clarence get their ideas of how to behave with the Blips? How did Clarence’s team building training come in handy?

If you like this, try: the Key and Peele television series, “Date Night,” and “Analyze This”

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Race and Diversity

Ratchet & Clank

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MPAA Rating: PG for action and some rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/action peril and violence, many high-tech weapons, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, some mansplaining
Date Released to Theaters: April 29, 2016
Date Released to DVD: August 21, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01EYWI4HA
Copyright 2016 Focus Features
Copyright 2016 Focus Features

Roger Ebert famously declared that a video game could not be art, giving rise to howls of protest. I believe that videogames, like movies, can and will rise to the level of art. But movies like “Ratchet & Clank” will continue to be compelling arguments to the contrary. Video games have striking visual design and some promising characters, though, in my limited experience, they are superficially sketched in to give the player room to inhabit them fully. If most of them don’t have what we might consider a plot, they have as much of a plot premise as many action movies: the world is under attack! And yet, so far no video game has successfully made the leap to a movie with enough of a story to succeed even as mildly entertaining.

Playstation’s Ratchet & Clank games, with names like “Full Frontal Assault” and “Tools of Destruction” are renowed for their varieties of weaponry. “With all that hardware at hand, it’s no wonder Ratchet, a wrench-wielding Lombax, and his robot buddy Clank, have itchy trigger fingers. Think about it. You can choose from burning, bombing, exploding or obliterating your enemies. So go ahead, blow it up. Blow it all up. It isn’t the size of your weapons that count. It’s how many you have and better yet… How you use ’em.”

So, not much by way for storyline or character and not exactly child-friendly. So, I am not sure what inspired Focus Features to turn that into a movie that is rated PG (“for action and some rude humor”) and intended for children.

Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a well-meaning but not entirely competent Lombax, a talking fox-like orphan of mysterious origin who works as a mechanic in a garage owned by Grimroth (John Goodman). His heroes are the Rangers, an elite fighting squad led by the preening, jut-jawed Captain Qwark (Jim Ward). When the planet is under attack from the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and mad scientist Dr Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), the Rangers decide to take on another member and Ratchet is determined to be the one to join the team.

That slight framework leads to a lot of shooting scenes with different weapons and some minor plot developments about shifting loyalties as a runt robot created for Drek becomes Ratchet’s partner, Clank (David Kaye), and Qwark, his feelings hurt by Ratchet’s popularity, is lulled by Drek’s promises of support. And then more shooting.

Without the interactive element of a game to make up for the thin characterization and repetitive plotline, the settings and action scene set-ups are generic and under-imagined, only reminding us of how much better original films like “Megamind” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” were in handing similar material.

Parents should know that this movie has a lot of sci-fi, action-style peril and weapons, with the entire galaxy at risk, though the film makes it clear that the planets being blown up are not occupied. There is brief bodily function humor.

Family discussion: Why was Qwark the leader of the Rangers? How many characters changed their loyalties in this movie, and what were their reasons? Why didn’t Qwark listen to Elaris?

If you like this, try: “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Megamind”

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Animation Based on a video game

Mother’s Day

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Mild medical issues
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie but some insensitive material and dialogue
Date Released to Theaters: April 29, 2016
Date Released to DVD: August 1, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01EYWIMJ0

Copyright 2016 Open Road Films
Copyright 2016 Open Road Films
I tried, Garry Marshall, I really did, but you finally broke me. I did my best to enjoy Valentine’s Day (I called it a tweet of a movie but gave it a B for being mildly entertaining) and New Year’s Eve (I called it a big budget version of the old television series “The Love Boat” and gave it a C, but managed to find some genuinely touching moments). I was fully expecting to find some light entertainment with a galaxy of big stars showing that they can make lackluster material shine a little bit.

So, if “Mother’s Day,” the third in Marshall’s big star/tiny script mash-ups keyed to a holiday, was no worse than the first two, I was determined to give it the benefit of the doubt. I have a mom; I am a mom, I wrote a book about the best movie mothers, and so I’m the prime audience for a bunch of stories about the tenderest and often the most fraught of relationships, mother and child. If it managed to be inoffensive, I would have recommended it. But with this film, Marshall and his inexperienced co-screenwriters cross the tipping point from merely synthetic to downright vile, with apparently no notion of the difference between humor that points out the virulence of bigotry and “jokes” that treat racism and homophobia like just another cutesy personality quirk.

As with the earlier films, there are a lot of characters presenting variations on the theme. But the characters do not even rise to the level of stereotypes and the storylines couldn’t fill a fortune cookie. There is a chasm-sized disconnect between the film’s assumptions about our belief in any of them and its ability to deliver that level of interest. Not one thing is believable even in heightened, glossed-over movie terms. Everyone lives in gorgeous homes and there are no concerns about money. Intrusive product placement gives the film a sleasy infomercial vibe even as it pretends to make fun of home shopping channels hawking cheesy merchandise. Some odd random shots of individuals who have nothing to do with the story are either friends of the filmmaker or evidence that at one time the movie was even worse and got recut. It’s creepy that it takes place in the very diverse city of Atlanta but everyone is white except for the characters whose primary job is to serve as a racial stereotype. Pretty much everyone in the film is a stereotype, but the white ones are not offensive, just dull. The non-white ones are both.

A quick recap of the set-ups — very quick so neither one of us will nod off in stunned boredom. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is a single mom with two sons who is upset because her ex (Timothy Olyphant) has married a beautiful young woman. Kristin (Britt Robertson of “Tomorrowland”) loves the father of her baby, an aspiring stand-up comic, but she won’t accept his marriage proposal because she was adopted and thus thinks she does not know who she is. Sisters Jesse (Kate Hudson) and Gabi (Sarah Chalke), who live next door to each other, have not told their bigoted, RV-driving, redneck parents about their spouses — Jesse is married to an Indian-American (Aasif Mandvi) and Gabi is married to a woman (Cameron Esposito). And sad widower Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) has to cope with being a single dad of two daughters. Julia Roberts, in a disastrous orange traffic cone of a hairdo (it’s actually a wig leftover from “Notting Hill”), is also on board as a shopping channel mogul presumably because Garry Marshall gave her her big break in “Pretty Woman” and she will do anything for him.

A series of exposition-heavy introductory scenes (Bradley and his daughters standing at the gravesite: “I can’t believe it’s been a year,” another character explaining, “I have abandonment issues,” Sandy, Jesse, and Gabi helpfully recapping everything that is going on in their lives to each other like the crawl at the bottom of the CNN screen) is followed by a series of micro-complications that fall somewhere between a 6th grade skit and a one-season basic cable sit-com, following by a series of contrived and cloying “resolutions.” The only clunky device left out is words of wisdom from a clown. Oops, no such luck. It’s there. And it’s not over! There are the most lifeless bloopers in the credits in the history of bloopers in the credits.

This is all larded with cornball slapstick wildly outdated “hilarity” that includes a man wearing a woman’s pink silk bathrobe, a man falling off a balcony, a man embarrassed at having to buy tampons for his daughter, a woman with her shirt ripped open holding supposedly professional design presentation model that looks like a third grade diorama, and the same woman getting her arm stuck in a vending machine.

It gets worse. Cops run down a speeding vehicle and make the only non-white character lie down on the ground. It gets resolved when one of the officers recognizes him; the issue of racial profiling is portrayed as a joke. So is a crack about a little person named “Shorty.” The stand-up comic ends up holding his baby and not delivering any jokes during his crucial make-it-or-break-it set, jokes which were not only funny but which might have made it funny and meaningful. Same for this wilted bouquet of a movie. Give Mom breakfast in bed instead.

Parents should know that this film includes discussions of bigotry but also insensitive portrayals of racism and homophobia, brief strong language, sad off-screen death of a parent, family issues about divorce and remarriage, some strong language, and alcohol, including scenes with a baby in a bar.

Family discussion: How did meeting Miranda make Kristen think differently about marriage? What should Jesse have told her parents about her husband?

If you like this, try: “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve”

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Comedy Family Issues Series/Sequel
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