That’s Auntertainment! Episode 40: Kenan

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You know, Kenan Thompson has been on TV for quite a while. Maybe we ought to do a podcast episode about him…

N.B.: At one point, Jeff accidentally says “Lester Bangs, Construction Worker” instead of “Lester Oaks, Construction Worker.”

‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ is Worth a Watch If You Feel Like Being Silly

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Clifford the Big Red Dog (CREDIT: Paramount Pictures)

Starring: Darby Camp, Jack Whitehall, Izaac Wang, John Cleese, Tony Hale, Sienna Guillory, David Alan Grier, Alex Moffat, Jessica Keenan Wynn, Russell Wong, Paul Rodriguez, Russell Peters, Mia Ronn, Kenan Thompson, Rosie Perez

Director: Walter Becker

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG for The Nuttiness Caused by a Giant Puppy

Release Date: November 10, 2021 (Theaters and Paramount+)

What would YOU do if a 20-foot-plus red-furred dog started running around all over everywhere? I imagine most people would react with a mixture of shock and confusion, but in this particular pup’s cinematic adventure directed by Walt Becker (Wild Hogs, Old Dogs), there’s a wider range of reactions. Clifford is cause not only for sublime awe, but also for worries about being a good caretaker, or the impetus to justify eviction, or for a standard-issue evil mega-corporation to swoop in and claim that they own everything. And of course, he becomes a bit of a local neighborhood hero. People act very wacky in Clifford the Big Red Dog, in ways that are fairly typical of a family flick, but not always in ways that necessarily go hand-in-hand with the presence of a gigantic canine, and I appreciate that.

The plot essentials that you might want to know are that sixth-grader Emily Elizabeth (Darby Camp) finds herself with an incorrigible dog after an encounter in Central Park with the mysterious and magical Mr. Bridwell (John Cleese) and his animal emporium. Her Uncle Casey (Jack Whitehall) isn’t so keen on her keeping Clifford, mostly because he wants to prove to his sister, Emily’s mom Maggie (Sienna Guillory), that he can be responsible. Meanwhile, Mr. Packard the super (David Alan Grier) doesn’t like dogs, and Tony Hale swoops in as a plainly devious CEO to capture Clifford and discover the secrets of his genetic code.

Obviously, something as kid-friendly as this movie is going to end with every character (except the most villainous or toady-ish) rallying around to save the day. So the most important question is: just how goofy do things get? And the answer is … pretty dang goofy. For a generally tame PG movie, there were several moments that had me delighting in their brazenness. A choice example happens when a veterinarian played by Kenan Thompson tries to gently inform us that Clifford’s temperature is supposed to be taken in the normal animal-temperature-taking location (“rhymes with nuthole”). And Clifford himself is as expressive as any real dog, so that plays well whenever there needs to be a definitive reaction shot.

So now the final question: do I want a big red dog of my own? My current living situation isn’t exactly the most dog-friendly, but let’s suppose I have a theoretically more welcoming setup. So with that in mind, I’d have to say: while a mutt like Clifford is great in a pinch whenever you need to run across a bridge, this movie isn’t shy about reminding us of the anatomical and practical matters that need can’t be avoided. Believing in magic can only take us so far, but we can always lighten the mood by saying silly things along the way.

Clifford the Big Red Dog is Recommended If You Like: Goofy uncles, Kid-friendly scatological humor, Standard kids movie tropes

Grade: 3 out of 5 Whimpers

Entertainment To-Do List: Week of 2/12/21

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Kenan (CREDIT: NBC/YouTube Screenshot)

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (On Demand) – A new comedy classic.
Judas and the Black Messiah (Theaters and HBO Max)
Minari (February 12 in Theaters, February 26 On Demand)

TV
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Season 8 Premiere (February 14 on HBO)
Momma Named Me Sheriff Season 2 Premiere (February 14 on Adult Swim)
Young Rock Series Premiere (February 16 on NBC)
Kenan Series Premiere (February 16 on NBC) – Kenan Thompson is still on SNL, but he’s also got his own sitcom now.

Music
-The Pretty Reckless, Death by Rock and Roll

We Need Some Candy on October 31. Do We Also Need ‘Hubie Halloween’?

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Hubie Halloween (CREDIT: Netflix)

Starring: Adam Sandler, Julie Bowen, June Squibb, Kevin James, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, Maya Rudolph, Tim Meadows, Kenan Thompson, Rob Schneider, Michael Chiklis, Karan Brar, Noah Schnapp, Paris Berelc, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, George Wallace, Colin Quinn, Kym Whitley, Mikey Day

Director: Steven Brill

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Release Date: October 7, 2020 (Netflix)

I decided that I simply must have something to say about Hubie Halloween, since I hold so dearly Adam Sandler’s last-minute Halloween costume ideas on Weekend Update from back in the day. So the big question is: did this tale of Salem’s official Halloween monitor give me those same warm, sugary feelings?

The Sandman has busted that old Shabadoo-voice, so that certainly helps. But what’s up with all the kids in town (and some adults) pelting him with candy whatever chance they get? Hubie wants you to have a happy Halloween! It’s hard to do that when you’re sacrificing your own candy! Furthermore, in addition to all the mischief, there’s several attempted felonies, a fair degree of mental instability, and pretty much no attempt to reconcile that darkness with the purely comical tone.

Ultimately, in a weird way this is all in keeping with the spirit of last-minute costume ideas. Hubie Halloween feels like a last-minute movie that was quickly cobbled together from a bunch of silly Halloween-related ideas bouncing around in Sandler’s head. In conclusion, I found myself in a good mood after watching, and I’m happy to declare, once again, “Now give me some candy!”

Grade: 3 out of 5 Crazy Protractor Beards

This Is a Movie Review: llumination Entertainment Brings ‘The Grinch’ Into a Post-‘Despicable Me’ World

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CREDIT: Illumination and Universal

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams

Directors: Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney

Running Time: 86 Minutes

Rating: PG for The Cartoonish Dangers of Snowy Cliffs

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Illumination Entertainment’s first and by far most influential release is Despicable Me. It may be the Minions who are inescapable in certain segments of our culture, but it is really the story of Gru and his girls that has provided Illumination with its template for success. That formula is now being applied to an even more established classic, as Dr. Seuss’ Christmas thief makes his CG animated big-screen debut. As voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, this Grinch still follows the arc of grumbling about the holiday, stealing presents, and then finally seeing the light. But he is very much in the mold of Gru insofar as he makes himself out to be a big villian but it is clear that he is actually a big softie the whole time. I don’t really buy that his heart grows three sizes, since I believe that it was actually always that big. Despicable Me works because of the tension of Gru hiding a fundamental side of himself, whereas previous versions of The Grinch have succeeded because the green fellow has been a genuine cold-hearted villain. But this time, there is no dramatically satisfying transformation.

Luckily, there are some details here and there that make for some cheery viewing pleasures. This version of Cindy Lou Who (voiced by Cameron Seely) is a formidable, strong-willed one. Honestly, I would happily watch a movie that is just about her trying to contact Santa or even one that is just about her preparing Christmas festivities. The animals are also satisfactory, with the Grinch’s canine companion Max serving as the long-suffering partner and a loyal reindeer named Fred showing up at just the right times to be the ideal scene-stealer. And then there’s Kenan Thompson as Bricklebaum, the jolliest citizen in Whoville and perhaps the jolliest character in Christmas movie history. And if you can’t accept Thompson as our resident Deliverer of Joy in 2018, well, then, you might be the one whose heart is three sizes too small.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch is Recommended If You Like: Despicable Me‘s sweetness, Resourceful young girls, Kenan Thompson at his most buoyant

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Grinch Orphanages

This Is a Movie Review: Going in Style

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin

Director: Zach Braff

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: April 7, 2017

Release Date: PG-13 for Shooting Blanks in One Way and Not Shooting Blanks in Another

There is a cottage industry of our finest living octogenarian thespians behaving badly, whether living it up in Vegas or spending spring break with their grandkids fishing for tail. Going in Style at first glance appears the next entry in this genre, what with its premise of retirees making their last big mark by pulling off a bank robbery. As these old coots throw on their Rat Pack masks, are we supposed to be thinking, “Somebody’s watched Point Break one too many times”? Not exactly. This is not a tale of wish fulfillment debauchery. Instead, Going in Style takes its opening cue from much more Oscar-friendly territory (as well as the 1979 original of the same name starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg).

Longtime friends and factory co-workers Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman), and Al (Alan Arkin) are facing a variety of ills: foreclosure for Joe, kidney failure for Willie, and disappearing pensions for all three. They do not vocalize a sense of economic betrayal from their country, but the subtext is clear. This is the same message as last year’s neo-Western Hell or High Water: when even the local banks are strictly aligned with the global monied class, robbery is all that those left behind can turn to. Going in Style mostly avoids that bleakness, though not at first. The first 15 minutes or so are all about underscoring the piling up of debt and very real threat of homelessness for decent folks who have put in decades of honest employment.

But with the codgers at its center, a depressing consistency would be truly beyond the pale. The dialogue acknowledges that safety net, as these intrepid thieves figure that even if they do get caught, they will at least be guaranteed a bed, three meals a day, and better health care than they are used to. There is a deep well of fantastic realism, or realistic fantasy, as it were, at play. We know Joe, Willie, and Al will get away with it, and it is essentially a victimless crime. Their temptation into a solution of crime is presented less as a trip to the dark side and more as open-mindedness and ingenuity. But surely the loss of millions cannot be so easily brushed off.

It is probably not necessary to take too harsh a moral stance against Going in Style, as I imagine that its target audience understands that stealing is wrong and heists are not so easily pulled off in real life. But it would be preferable if the film had a more clearly discernible message. Is it advocating for getting what you’re owed by any means necessary, becoming a Robin Hood of sorts, or actually just prescribing robbery in extreme circumstances? As it stands, it is a whimsical wisp propelled along by plenty of capable people that tiptoes around some explosive territory.

Going in Style is Recommended If You Like: Hell or High Water but thought it was missing a dance scene set to “Single Ladies”

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 “Young Men”