Movie Reviews

The "Movie Reveiws for Single Father Families" page provides opinions and perspectives relating both to classic and contemporary films about single fathers and the children of those single dads. You never know. I might be able to direct you to a great movie you can enjoy with your kids on a rainy Saturday afternoon or help you save the (now considerable) price of admission if a stinker.

The Horrible Message of Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Okay. I saw Walt Disney Picture’s Beauty and the Beast this weekend with a date. Yeah, yeah. I get it. The things we do for love, huh?

Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast
The movie’s musical score is nice and Emma Watson is just about as adorable as she can be, but I am baffled by this movie's message. I'm not the first to connect the dots between Belle falling in love with Beauty and the Beast and Stockholm Syndrome. You know, Stockholm Syndrome, right? It's the feelings of love, trust, and affection that captives and hostages tend to develop toward their captors. In this live action version, Belle's feelings for Beast start to change from disdain to affection after he defends her from wolves who are trying to eat her. That's really going from the frying pan into the fire, but never mind Beast's intention was preventing her escape. Later, while still his captive, Belle, who is an avid reader, takes another step toward a love connection after Beast "gives" her his priceless library. As a Beast’s literal prisoner, the gift of the library to Belle is like giving a caged parakeet a bell to ring or a mirror for amusement.

What the absolute fuck?

Stockholm Syndrome aside, the second and equally disturbing message of Beauty and the Beast is the suggestion that a woman’s love can change a man. If a man is an uncouth and ill-mannered beast, then, by all means, marry him. Your love, ladies, with change him. Alcoholic? No problem. Drug addict? Go for it. Spouse abuser? Child abuser? The strength and purity of your love will change that beast into a god-damned prince.
FedEx Ground 2016 Player of the Year, Adrian Peterson
entered a plea of no-contest to abusing a four year old.

Um, that’s not really the way it works. Just ask any wife or girlfriend of any man on the roster of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings.

These are terrible messages for girls and young women. Look, there are monsters in this world and they look just like people. So, if a woman meets a monster, knows the person is a monster, and chooses to make a commitment to the monster, well, who’s fault is it that there’s a monster in the castle? According to Disney, it’s not really a problem at all. With her love, the psychologically abused woman can change the monster into a prince. Is this the message we want for our daughters?

I just got my vagina hat. Let me know when we march on Hollywood.

Ghostbusters "Reboot:" Dead on Arrival

So, I took The Favorite Son to one of my favorite summer places, the Warwick Drive-In in Warwick, New York to see "Ghostbusters" (2016). The drive-in atmosphere on a warm, New York summer night was fantastic. However, at the risk of being labeled a misogynistic, chauvinist, unevolved, knuckle-dragging ape, (it wouldn’t be the first time), this movie is an epic disappointment to anyone who appreciates the Ghostbusters franchise.

Kirsten Wiig as Erin Gilbert
I’m not sure whether it is the dearth of chemistry among the cast or the fact that Harold Ramis is no longer available to write the script, but the dynamic buddy comedy vibe featured in the original "Ghostbusters" and "Ghostbusters II" just doesn't exist. Frankly, there isn’t even the same energy in "Ghostbusters 2016," (to which I'll hereafter refer to it), as there was in "Bridesmaids," which I enjoyed and which featured some of the same actors.

Leslie Jones as Patty Tolan
The script, written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, could hardly be less imaginative. Kristen Wiig is Erin Gilbert, a college professor whose tenure is jeopardized by the reemergence of a book about the paranormal, which she wrote with her estranged friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). Abby, a la Ray Stantz from the original, works with Jillian Holzman (Kate McKinnon) on a number nerdy, paranormal projects at a trade school community college. All three are, predictably, fired from their jobs after a YouTube video surfaces of the three investigating a paranormal phenomenon. Obviously, the respective school administrations view paranormal research as crackpot. From there, the plot vacillates from the story lines of "Ghostbusters" and "Ghostbusters II." The fourth buster, Metro Transit Authority worker, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), joins the team after she witnesses a subway ghost after a hotel janitor, Rowan North (Neil Casey), creates a ghost portal. Not unlike Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) in "Ghostbusters II," North plots to summon all underworld demons to change the natural order on Earth, where North believes he has been poorly treated.

If the intention was to make a copy, the copy is a poor one.  If the intention was to make an homage, movie is a disappointing homage. If the intention was to create a film to entertain, it fails miserably. Wiig’s performance is wooden and lacks the ability to be the touchstone for the humorous irreverence of Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman. Like a two-year old child who’d learned a new phrase from her mommy Melissa McCarthy endlessly repeats, "Power up" and “Light ‘em up.” Kate McKinnon tries way too hard to be the quirky one in the contrast to Harold Ramis’ understated obsessive compulsive Egon Spengler. Leslie Jones’s loud and proud portrayal of Patty Tolan, reportedly written for Eddie Murphy in the originals, is obnoxious.

I wish I could say that the cameo appearances by all but two (Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis) of the original cast made a cute or fun connection with the original, but those performances were flat and pointless. Dan Aykroyd is a cab driver who wouldn’t drive to Chinatown. Ernie Hudson is Patty Tolan’s uncle who owns the mortuary from which she re-purposes a hearse as New York State registration ECTO-1. Very original, huh? Sigourney Weaver makes a brief appearance as the flaky mentor of one of the Ghostbusteresses. Bill Murray portrays paranormal debunker, Martin Heiss, and turns in a mediocre performance in two scenes before he is unceremoniously killed by curiosity. As a tip of the cap to Harold Ramis, his son, Daniel, appears in a minor role as a concert goer during a ghostbusting scene. Other cameo appearances include Annie Potts, Ozzy Osborne, Al Roker, local New York newscasters Greg Kelly and Rosanna Scotto, and Slimer.

Sadly, however, the short of Harold Ramis returning perhaps as a ghost himself to have written a better script and perhaps to have convinced the original cast to have made the reboot, none of the cameos nor anything else could have saved "Ghostbusters 2016." I just hope we aren’t haunted by endless, senseless sequels every two or three years. I might just cough up some ectoplasm myself.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

No, I will not write a 500 word review of Hot Tub Time Machine 2 like I will eventually write for Boyhood or Birdman. However, I will give you the what-you-need-to-know about the sequel to a pretty cool original.

As I've alluded, Hot Tub Time Machine was a pretty cool original. It will never have been confused with great cinema, but it included time travel, pretty girls, one of my favorite living actors, John Cusack, and a fun and happy ending. No, not that kind of happy ending, although it did earn its "R" rating. Bear in mind, the sequel is almost never as good as the original - the only exception that comes to mind is Godfather II. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is no an exception.

Why isn't it as good? Well, the story, in which three of the original characters, Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke) travel in the hot tub time machine to the future to save Lou's life after being "shot in the dick" during a party. Solving Lou's murder in the future before it happens is the premise of the story.
Bianca Haase

Unfortunately, John Cusack didn't participate in the sequel and Chevy Chase's character, the Hot Tub Repairman, makes only one scene. However, Lisa Loeb makes a cute cameo and Bianca Haase as Sophie, coat check girl and Jacob's future wife, is probably worth the price of the ticket.

Still, there are some pretty funny lines as well as time travel, pretty girls, and a sort of fun and happy ending. Just not that kind of happy ending.

Edge of Tomorrow

So, what do you get when you cross Groundhog DayTransformers, Tom Cruise, a script that could have been written by a second grader, and an Ed Wood-esque directorial quality? Well, tragically, you get the military science fiction bomb, Edge of Tomorrow. summarizes the film, "An officer (Cruise) finds himself caught in a time loop in a war with an alien race. His skills increase as he faces the same brutal combat scenarios, and his union with a Special Forces warrior (Blunt) gets him closer and closer to defeating the enemy."

I won't plan to spend too much time on this because the movie was so astoundingly bad, from beginning to end, vertically, horizontally, and in every other way; Tom Cruise was at his Tom Cruisian worst, the script was painfully dull, the special effects seemed to be based on ten year old technology, and not even the perky Emily Blunt, who portrays Cruise's character's Special Forces bad-ass-chick-love-interest, could save it.

Save your time and money. Skip this one again and again and again and again and . . . 

After Earth

So, a supposed blockbuster movie starring one of my favorite action film stars, Will Smith, and directed by one of my favorite directors, M. Night Shyamalan, can't miss, right? On top of that, the premise is one in which a father and son who live in a future science fiction world are on a space ship that crashes into Earth, a planet humans abandoned a thousand years ago because the fauna and flora have evolved to rid itself of our species. Awesome, right? A father and son camping trip, right? Can't miss, right? Right?


After Earth is no Men in Black, no Pursuit of Happyness, no I Am Legend, nor even Hancock. Moreover, After Earth is no Sixth Sense, no Signs, no The Village, nor even Lady in the WaterAfter Earth couldn't have missed more if it starred Hayden Christensen and was directed by Ed Wood.

Well, that's not necessarily true. A Christensen-Wood production could potentially be better than After Earth if only Jaden Smith could somehow have been kept off camera.

While Will Smith's on screen effort is quite a bit below average. In his defense, it's quite possible that Will's poor performance was an attempt to make his son's acting appear better by comparison. It's difficult to imagine, however, a worse actor than Jaden Smith who is completely outmatched by a dumbed-down script. His portrayal of Kitai Raige, who desperately wants to follow in his hero-father's footsteps, is so bad that it's distracting. Sadly, the plot, which, in most Will Smith action movies doesn't necessarily have to be anything special, isn't, and the special effects are nothing special.  So, the audience is left with some odd, unlikeable characters who have a slightly strange accent that must represent the evolution of English a millenia hence. Apparently, grammar and diction in the future have regressed, though, as Jaden doesn't seem to be familiar with the conjugation of the verb, "Be."

Obviously, After Earth was supposed to be Jaden's coming out party, thrown by his dad/co-star/writer/producer and his mom, Jada, who also is listed as among the list of producers. Sadly, the party appears to be more of a wake.

After suffering through After Earth, will I see the next Will Smith or M. Night Shyamalan movies? Of course I will. You can bet I'll check the cast list for Jaden, though. If he's listed as anything other than "Person #3," I'll probably check the listing for Hayden Christensen's new one.

Spring Breakers

Photo Credit:
Film Noir comes to Spring Break. Well, almost.

Anyone who has a teenage daughter will likely hear the question this weekend, “Can I see Spring Breakers?”

Why not? The cast includes a virtual Who’s Who of Walt Disney Studios actors: Selena Gomez (The Wizards of Waverly Place), Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars), and Rachel Korine, whose sister, Harmony, wrote and directed the film. However, a fun frolic on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale this is not.

Faith (Gomez), Candy, (Hudgens), Brit (Benson), and Cotty (Korine) have a problem: it’s spring break at their northern university and they don’t have the funds to escape. All but Faith, who is apparently too busy attending a church youth group, resolve to rob the patrons at a local restaurant using water guns and a hammer. Flush with cash, the girls start to discover “who they really are” once they arrive on the sunny beaches of South Florida.

The revelry takes a harsh detour when the girls are arrested at a party where cocaine is snorted from the beer soaked breasts of many of the participants. Certainly for impact on the target audience, the girls remain in their bikinis while having a sleepover in an otherwise private cell. When sentenced to a fine or two days in jail, not one even considers contacting a parent for the money. However, Alien, an aspiring gangbanger and drug dealer played by James Franco, shows up and pays their fine. ostensibly to garner favors from the foursome.
Franco, by the way, is on the verge of becoming the Kevin Bacon of his generation of actors; eventually everyone will know someone who's been in a film with James Franco. Unlike Kevin Bacon, however, Franco never quite seems to have the chops to make his character credible.
Writer/director Korine attempts to create an art house effect using the overplayed style of filming quick candid camera shots of free styling actors and brief contrasts to out-of-context scenes, in this case featuring topless girls being fed beer bongs from riotous beach boys. If the technique wasn’t overused before Spring Breakers, it certainly was by the time the final credits rolled.
At times, Spring Breakers appears to be on the verge of making a salient point, but repeatedly and unrealistically fails. After finding themselves with Alien in a gang hangout among some clearly hardened characters, the four pretty little white girls who are still wearing their bikinis are simply allowed to leave. In comparison to the 2005 film Havoc, for example, when the characters played by Anne Hathaway and Bijou Phillips find themselves in a similar circumstance, one of the girls is gang raped.
While Spring Breakers could have made an important commentary about any number of topics, from drug use to the immediate gratification generation to our throw-away society, Spring Breakers simply doesn’t. Characters dangle, only partially developed and resolved. Ideas are started, but like a child diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, not one is finished.
A film without a point is a film without a soul, and no amount of jiggling breasts or extraneous vulgarity can give it one. If there was a moral to the Spring Breakers, and I simply don’t think Harmony Korine had any idea that she was creating one, that moral would be that there is little or no consequence for an action. In the real world, that simply isn’t the case.
☺ out of five.

Oz the Great and Powerful

No, I wasn’t around for the original release of The Wizard of Oz, but I watched it faithfully during the holidays on NBC beginning in the early 1970’s. I even read Frank Baum’s original novel to The First and Second Beautiful Daughters. The differences in the book compared to the movie were fascinating and, when we finished reading, the whole family sat down during a family movie night and watched the Dorothy, Toto, and her band of enchanting misfits do battle with the Wicked Witch of the West.
Given my history with the 1939 classic, it should come as no surprise that I took The Favorite Son and two of his eight year old buddies to see Disney's Oz the Great and Powerfulon its day of release at a nearby AMC Loew's Metroplex.
Like the television version of the six time Academy Award nominated original, the prequel begins with a short black and white sequence during which Oscar Diggs (James Franco), or “Oz,” distinguishes himself as a guileless and grifting circus magician. Predictably, Oz’s circus is performing in Kansas. After Oz is caught with his hands in one too many cookie jars, he attempts an escape in a hot air balloon in which he is, again predictably, swept into a prairie zizzer, which wisks him to Land of, yes, Oz. (For folks who appreciate allegory, the similarity is more than a coincidence.)
Once Oz has safely landed in, ahem, Oz, he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis), a beautiful witch who has awaited the prophesized arrival of a great wizard to bring peace and safety to the people of the Land of Oz. Theodora falls hard for Oz, but it soon becomes obvious that “something is rotten in the land of” . . . Oz. Theodora leads Oz to the Emerald City where he meets his guide’s sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), who goads him with riches and power to kill the witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams) who, claims Evanora, killed the previous wizard. It’s not until Oz meets Glinda that he begins to comprehend the complex politics in the apparently matriarchal society. (More metaphor, perhaps?)
Oz the Great and Powerful has a few nice moments, like the inclusion of a broken China doll, “China Girl,” whose home had been destroyed by the wicked witch and who Oz magically repairs with a bottle of glue. In addition, "Finley" the good flying monkey provides some comic relief and a cute and cuddley character for the enjoyment of young viewers. Later, as the previously self-absorbed Oz learns empathy for the people of Oz, including the tinkers, the farmers, the munchkins, Oz declares to Glinda,“I may not be the wizard you expected, but I may just be the wizard you need.”
With only a few notable exceptions, The Godfather and Star Wars among them, prequels and sequels risk unfavorable comparison to the original. Unfortunately, Oz the Great and Powerful was not spared. The story, which clarifies a few minor details about the MGM classic, fails to enthuse. The performances tendered by the four stars, Franco, Kunis, Weisz, and Williams are uninspired and the screenplay is unimaginative. Of course, "Over the Rainbow," performed by Judy Garland won the Oscar for "Best Song" in 1939, but no such charming tune was included in this one. On the bright side, however, the special effects are quite a bit better than those available to the original film makers.
Regardless of this reviewer's opinion, there were plenty of folks in the theatre on Friday who wanted to gain insight into Oz and into Oz before Dorothy showed up. In my opinion, however, a single father won’t be missing much if he waits until Oz the Great and Powerful is available through another magical medium, pay-per-view television.
☺☺☺ out of five.

* * *

A Good Day to Die Hard

Fans of the Die Hard franchise learned in Live Free or Die Hard in 2007 that Holly Gennaro McLane died of breast cancer sometime after the third movie, leaving the indestructible John McLane (Bruce Willis) a widower single father of a now grown daughter, Lucy, and son, John Jr.

John Jr., “Jack” (Jai Courtney) is in trouble in Russia. He murdered a Russian mafia boss apparently at the behest of a political prisoner, Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch). Jack is arrested and John flies to Moscow to help and support his ostensibly wayward son. However, it turns out that Jack is CIA on a mission, which John unknowingly blows. The CIA's interest in Komarov relates to vital information contained in a file about a high ranking Russian official.

In terms of action, A Good Day to Die Hard doesn’t disappoint. Shortly after John arrives in Russia, there’s an awesome explosion followed by a great three-car (truck) chase scene through traffic congested Moscow streets. Other than the occasional interruption of unexceptional dialogue, mostly relating to John’s less-than-stellar parenting as Jack grew up, the action sequences, replete with helicopters and large caliber fire arms, are essentially non-stop.

Missing in A Good Day to Die Hard, however, is the amusing banter between John and his sidekick, who in this case, was Jack. In the original, John had Sgt. Al Powell (Reginal Veljohnson) and in Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Capt. Carmine DeLorenzo (Dennis Franz) was the bumbling cop straight man. Also not present in the lasted effort is the existence of a really great bad guy like Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Even the obnoxious, attention seeking television reporter Richard Thornberg (William Atherton) served as part of the plucky comic relief in the first two Die Hard films and helped make John McLane a more complex, likeable character. To avoid spoiling, neither Jack nor the bad guy, whoever he, she, or they may be, just don’t measure up.

For me, seeing Bruce Willis reprise this role mostly reminded me of my advancing years; Willis will be 58 years old next month and, although he’s still in pretty good physical condition, is starting to look his age. Notably, this is the 25 anniversary of the first Die Hard. (Click here to order the 25 Anniversary Die Hard Collection.)

Cue Ode to Joy.

Still, John McLane still has a couple of good one-liners and, yes, there is one “Yippee ki-yay,” well, you know the rest. On the other hand, I think John McLane must have said, "I'm on vacation," at least five times; not once did the line garner a laugh. In all, A Good Day to Die Hard is a poorly written and, other than the somewhat redemptive explosions and chases, is the weakest among the previous four installments replacing Die Hard With a Vengeance. Still, if a guy is a fan of Die Hard and John McLane, you pretty much have to see it. If you have a son who’s old enough to filter the strong language and violence, bring him along, too.
* * *

Top Ten Films About Single Dads . . . and Their Kids

I don’t know what got me thinking about single dads in film. One of my favorite film genres, I’m only a little embarrassed to admit, is the 1980’s John Hughs teenage coming-of-age movies like Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and, yes, Pretty in Pink, which I think got me started on this.

In Pretty in Pink, Harry Dean Stanton portrays the on-screen, drunken, unemployed father of Molly Ringwald’s character, Andie Walsh. In spite of the loss of her mother sometime before the film begins, Andie (Ringwald) somehow is able to cobble together a second hand dress and get the rich guy, Blane, played by Andrew McCarthy. Similar portrayals of single fathers can be seen in other films like Runaway Bride. Paul Dooley's character may be the reason Julia Roberts’s character, Maggie Carpenter, has commitment issues. In Must Love Dogs, a shiftless Dermot Mulroney manipulates his way into Diane Lane’s bed. (I can think of worse reasons to employ Machiavellian devices to get close to Diane Lane, but I digress.)

This all got me to thinking, what are the best stories and portrayals of single dads? Here is my list of the Top Ten Films about Single Dads:

Overboard – After Goldie Hawn falls off her yacht and loses her memory, a playfully vengeful Kurt Russell convinces her that she’s his wife and enlists her to keep a home for him and his four boys. The story would be a little creepy if it weren’t a comedy, and besides, who wouldn’t have wanted Goldie Hawn as a pretend wife?

3 Men and a Baby – Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, and Steve Guttenberg were metrosexuals before the word existed. One fathers a child, who is delivered via basket outside their luxury apartment door, and all three become dads.

We Bought A Zoo – Matt Damon’s portrayal of a single father is eerily close to reality in this somewhat embellished “based on a true story” story. "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage."

The Pursuit of Happyness – Jaden Smith plays the son of his real life father’s character, Chris Gardner, in a story about the lengths to which a father will go to provide a life and future for his child. This very touching film is also based on a true story.

Finding Nemo – A computer animated film about an overprotective clown fish whose son, Nemo, is lost at sea a captured by dentist. (What could be worse?) Nemo loses his mother when a barracuda attacks the nursery. There is a great deal of metaphor in this one.

Signs – A man-of-the-cloth who loses his wife (and his faith) after a freak automobile accident. Mel Gibson’s character protects his children, his brother, and his home during an alien attack.

There Will Be BloodDaniel Day-Lewis is incredible as self-made oil man, Daniel Plainview, in this film adaptation of the Upton Sinclair novel. “If I have a milkshake, and you have a milkshake . . .”

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee’s novel is better than the film in which Gregory Peck portrays Atticus Finch, one of the most important and influential characters in literary and film history. More than once I’ve asked myself in the context of single fatherhood, “What would Atticus do?”

Chitty Chitty Bang BangBased on the novel by Ian Fleming, yes, the Ian Fleming who created James Bond, and a screenplay by Roald Dahl, yes, the Roald Dahl who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang features Dick Van Dyke as the scatter-brained, Caractacus Potts, Salley Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious (I’ll bet she was), and a really cool car that I wanted my own dad to build.

Unforgiven Clint Eastwood wrote, directed, and starred in the story of a former hired gun whose wife passed away and left him with two young children and a pig farm. To provide a future for his kids, William Munny (Eastwood) joins his old friend, Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman), and “The Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett) to avenge the attack on a prostitute (back when prostitution was a respected career choice) in a town called Big Whiskey.

So, the next time you see a movie in which a single dad is portrayed as an unemployed alcoholic or a shallow womanizer, don’t think twice about it. You can join Daniel Plainview, Will Munny, and me when we go over and have a talk with the writer of the screenplay. I just hope Atticus Finch is there and cooler heads prevail.