Month: April 2019

Best Friend from Heaven (2018)

Y’all, I don’t even know what to say about this movie, except maybe I’m being punished for making my mom watch Masterpiece Theater when she really just wants to watch Hallmark. I will gladly take a white folk’s romance about blasé dog trainer over this one about a talking dog angel any day though. I’m being charitable when I say that it makes no damn sense and that there’s a lot of un-Christian behavior for a purported Christian movie.

The whole thing is premised on the death of a dog, Gabriel, on his owner’s wedding day. He finds himself in doggy heaven, which is really human heaven but with a different entrance, and escapes back to earth before he even gets a paw in the pearly dog flap. However, he finds that he’s invisible and has the voice of…Kris Kristofferson, all of which makes his afterlife mission a bit difficult. Tara (Winny Clarke) and Pete (Christian Von Krause), it turns out, didn’t marry that day or any day thereafter. Now their faithful pooch wants to set things right and make sure the two say “I do.”

This is where the writing teacher in me gently presses my students about missing character motivations. Why did Tara and Pete decide to call off their wedding entirely? Why, since they are clearly still in love and intent on staying that way, didn’t they postpone their nuptials or opt for a smaller ceremony? Crucially, why is the whole town blaming Jerry (Will King), the kid delivering flowers, for running over Gabriel when Tara was the one who left the gate open and the dog was chasing a damn squirrel?!

Thankfully we’re not in a high school English class, so I’ll instead say that I can’t believe someone got paid to write this shit. There are so many gaping narrative holes that this was bound to sink. You just can’t fix poor Jerry’s story with a few patch-ups. I don’t know what is wrong with this mean-spirited town and church congregation, but everyone avoids him. They treat him like a leper despite his genuine remorse and willingness to atone for his actions.

So, feeling really bad but also inspired by the preacher’s “it takes a village” sermon, and by Gabe, Jerry decides to plan another wedding for the bitter couple. He needs the help of other congregants though, help which they give in exchange for Jerry’s free labor at their own places of business. Seriously, WTF, folks? Tara and Pete can stage another wedding if and when they want, and none of this should involve Jerry dressing up like a clown and becoming target practice for kids with handfuls of birthday cake.

And let’s not forget doggy St. Peter (I didn’t get the name of the character or actor), who comes to earth and takes on a human form when he realizes Gabe is missing. I don’t know if this makes more sense in the heavenly realm, but somehow, dude thinks he’s going to find Gabe by putting up “missing” posters and asking people if they’ve seen a dog they know is already dead.

But, hey, maybe it’s just me. Some people will enjoy this movie and find Kristofferson’s gravelly monotone endearing. Others will appreciate the syrupy message about community, albeit one that comes without much sense of true forgiveness. I tend to like my pop Christianity a little more Doubt and a little less Heaven is Real, so take your pick.

Alt Title: God’s Best Friend
Released: 2018
Prod: Patrick McBrearty
Dir: Justin G. Dyck
Writer: Keith Cooper
Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Will King, Winny Clarke, Christian Von Krause, Brian Scott Carleton
Time: 88 min
Lang: English
Country: Canada
Reviewed: 2019

Overboard (2018)

Nobody asked for an Overboard remix, so maybe it was right that the movie got dragged by critics. I already did a number on the original, but hating the idea of this movie is one way to be pleasantly surprised by some of the story’s retooling. It turns out the flipping the script and reversing gender roles can improve things. My main problem with the 1987 film is that the insufferable socialite who’s tossed overboard finds herself exploited by the man she’s cheated. He takes advantage of her vulnerability and then justifies that behavior by pointing finger at her and not himself, all of which is played for laughs and a sense of karma. So what happens when the one in need of his comeuppance is a man? Well, something a little more nuanced.

Kate (Anna Faris), for one, is a lot more sympathetic than the Kurt Russell character she is based on. She actually feels guilty about fooling Leo (Eugenio Derbez), the playboy bachelor and now amnesiac, into thinking he is her husband. It’s a last ditch move by a young widow who knows she can’t continue to juggle three girls, two jobs, and a nursing exam, especially after her mom’s popped off to do some community theater. Revenge is not the aim so much as it is a simple need to keep her life from falling apart. She sets the unsuspecting Leo up with a punishing construction job so that she have money for the mortgage. She enlists his help to cook dinner and get the groceries so she has more time to study. At no point does she abdicate her own responsibilities towards work or family.

Crucially, the power dynamics shift. Kate manipulates Leo, and criminal behavior is criminal behavior, but she doesn’t have complete control over him. He gains independence through his ability to work, and that in turn gives him a network of friends and coworkers. Leo takes cues about how to be husband and father, but he has a lot more room to shape his new identity. He is not trapped at home or at the mercy of people who could take advantage of him physically or sexually, and this telling change makes all the difference. In fact, it’s Kate who must remain guarded. She comes up with an excuse to keep him out of her bedroom and, having seen the way he used to demean women, is wary of letting him alone with her/their daughters. So it is that even a woman who seems to have all the power still does not.

I’ll own to be one of the few people who enjoyed this movie, certainly if we’re comparing it to the original. Its better hold on gender also extends to supporting characters. Kate’s kids each have a distinct personality, and Leo’s two sisters are a riot. Responsible, business-minded Magdalena (Cecilia Suárez) has her eye on the family’s company, but their father favors Leo despite his life of debauchery. I can’t say she’s entirely wrong for pretending her brother was devoured by sharks.

Most of my criticism is directed at the humor, which could be dialed up several notches. Though the laughs are consistent, they’re never very strong. Faris is delightfully neurotic, per usual, and keeps things funny while also being the adult in the room. She and Derbez aren’t always tuned to the same comedic wavelength though. They’re an odd couple not only because of age but also because he tends to be more deliberate and over-the-top in his delivery. In his eagerness to get laughs, he just doesn’t get many. I hope we’ll see more of Derbez and the other Mexican actors regardless. This kind of mainstream cross-production is the kind of cinema I want more of, where large chunks of Spanish dialogue is just a natural thing.

Released: 2018
Prod: Eugenio Derbez, Benjamin Odell, Bob Fisher
Dir: Rob Greenberg
Writer: Bob Fisher, Rob Greenberg, Leslie Dixon
Cast: Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, Eva Longoria, Mel Rodriguez, Hannah Nordberg, Alyvia Alyn Lind, Peyton Lepinski, Fernando Luján, Cecilia Suárez, Mariana Treviño, John Hannah, Swoosie Kurtz
Time: 112 min
Lang: English, Spanish
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019

Overboard (1987)

So Overboard is about a woman who rips off a guy, falls off her yacht, gets amnesia, and then goes home with said man when he claims that she is his wife. Once they reach his filthy hovel, he makes her clean, cook, and care for his four children. After a while, she starts to believe this lie and he starts to fall in love. Also, this is a comedy.

1987 me is looking at this like LOL, and 2019 me is looking at this like WTF. It’s almost as if this is a horrible story about criminal assault and deception layered on top of deep sexism and misogyny and should never be attempted a second time. How can one watch without considering the fact that Joanna Strayton (Goldie Hawn) is incredibly vulnerable, has no advocate, and doesn’t deserve what happens to her no matter how big a bitch she might be?

Nevertheless, a sick sense of payback is the raison d’être behind this supposed comedy gold. Joanna cuts a ridiculous figure. Her wardrobe contains nothing but sequined swimwear and her diet nothing but caviar that “bursts in the mouth at the precise moment.” She hires Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell) to redo her wardrobe, and when he makes the mistake of using oak instead of cedar, she literally throws him off her yacht.

Sure, Joanna is an awful human. She disdains, well, everyone and treats Dean as another one of her disposable hired help. (She also happens to have some great one-liners, which Hawn delivers with gooey condescension.) None of that merits what is to come, however, because while there are plenty of recourses for not getting paid, kidnapping is not one of them.

That doesn’t stop Dean, who, delighted by this turn of events, sings to the tune of “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” that he’s “got a wonderful slave.” He immediately puts Joanna, whom he calls Annie, to work on a house that looks like a wrecking project on a home renovation show. He has the gall to reason that she should do all the housekeeping since he’s the one earning the paycheck. To make things more unbearable, he outsources his beastly children’s well-being to Joanna. It falls on her to make sure they’re clean, fed, and literate. His hands-off approach is rich though since there’s scant evidence he was ever hands-on with his household or parenting duties.

Dean’s go-to trick is to lie to Joanna that she’s never been bothered by this work before, at least he tries this line until she barks back that it bothers her now. It’s a rousing moment, or at least it would be if she wasn’t being cut down again and again. Joanna constantly tries to stand up for herself only to find her efforts dismissed, and isn’t that the story of womanhood. Whether she’s put into the psyche ward for insisting she is who she is, or is not, or demanding proof from Dean that they’ve actually lived a life together, it’s painful to see her groping around for her own identity. Her existence is made worse because everyone around her is profiting from the deception.

I don’t buy the feel-good part of this story, no matter how hard Russell tries to sell me on his roguish charms. In fact, it’s his likability that makes this movie less palatable, not more so. Eventually Dean’s conscience catches up, but only when Joanna settles into this make-believe life he’s created for her and effectively becomes a “good” woman. She changes not only the Proffitt family’s lives for the better but her own as well, if better means not being a materialistic snob. Being worthy or blameless should have never figured into Dean’s decisions in the first place though. That he violated Joanna’s trust and security is entirely on him, and frankly, it’s not very funny.

Released: 1987
Prod: Nick Abdo, Roddy McDowall, Alexandra Rose, Anthea Sylbert
Dir: Gary Marshall
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Cast: Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Edward Herrmann, Katherine Helmond, Roddy McDowall, Michael G. Hagerty, Brian Price, Jared Rushton, Jamie Wild, Jeffrey Wiseman
Time: 112 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019