The War With Grandpa

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Comedy;
Box Office $18.39 million;
$22.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for rude humor, language, and some thematic elements.
Stars Robert De Niro, Oakes Fegley, Uma Thurman, Rob Riggle, Laura Marano, Poppy Gagnon, Cheech Marin, Christopher Walken, Jane Seymour.

Based on the children’s novel of the same name by Robert Kimmel Smith, The War With Grandpa is an odd little comedy that seems more mean-spirited than it turns out to be.

Robert De Niro stars as Ed, who moves in with his daughter (Uma Thurman) after an accident. When he’s given the room of his grandson, Peter (Oakes Fegley), this upsets the young lad. And since he’s just learning about the U.S. Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence in school, he sends a note to grandpa declaring war unless his room is returned.

Grandpa has a few chuckles with his pals over the note, but doesn’t take it too seriously, prompting Peter to escalate things to a full-on prank war.

Ed, understanding his grandson’s frustration but egged on by his friends, pulls Peter aside and they work out a series of rules for when and where they can prank each other — the most important one is not letting Peter’s parents or other siblings find out about it — so it never gets beyond harmless fun.

That is, until Peter’s younger sister has a Christmas-themed birthday party that gives the filmmakers all sorts of excuses for mayhem.

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 The War With Grandpa is filled with occasional laughs and should serve as a nice diversion for families looking to pass the time. In addition to the pretty standard back-and-forth prank format, the film also heavily relies on a “Family Guy”-style flashback structure — in which a character brings up something that happened, prompting the film to cut to a scene of the humorous incident occurring.

There’s also some clever stuff about the generational technology gap, as grandpa can’t figure out how phones and automated checkout machines work, while the Jenny the youngest granddaughter keeps asking if Ed wants to watch a movie on the tablet she’s always toting around.

The Blu-ray presentation doesn’t include any extras.

The Jesus Rolls

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 5/5/20;
Screen Media;
Comedy;
Box Office $0.02 million;
$24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong sexual content, language throughout and brief nudity.
Stars John Turturro, Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou, Christopher Walken, Jon Hamm, Pete Davidson, Susan Sarandon, J. B. Smoove, Gloria Reuben.

The biggest source of audience interest in The Jesus Rolls will likely center on the return of John Turturro to the role of Jesus Quintana, the trash talking bowler he played in 1998’s The Big Lebowski.

Quintana was one of the more memorable supporting characters of Big Lebowski despite appearing in just two scenes with less than four minutes of total screen time. However, Turturro was interested in revisiting the character, and received special permission from the Coen Brothers to make him the central character of his own movie.

While Quintana’s presence as the focus of this new film might make it a loose spinoff and spiritual sequel to The Big Lebowski, once the curiosity factor wears off what’s left is a rather bland attempt to spread the character’s quirky appeal throughout a feature-length story that comes up just shy of 90 minutes.

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Written and directed by Turturro, The Jesus Rolls is essentially a remake of the 1974 French farce Going Places, which itself was based on the novel Les Valseuses, the title coming from a slang term for male genitals.

Upon being released from prison and told that another arrest will likely get him locked up for life, Quintana proceeds to do little else but commit petty crimes in support of a bohemian lifestyle. Hooking up with his best friend Petey (Bobby Cannavale), the pair steal a vintage sports car belonging to a tough-talking hairdresser (Jon Hamm) and make off with one of his stylists (Audrey Tautou), who confesses that in her promiscuous adventures she has never had an orgasm. In search of someone with more potential appreciation for their skills in the arts of pleasure, Jesus and Petey decide to pick up a random woman (Susan Sarandon) just being released from prison. This sets them down a path of establishing their own unconventional family unit to enable their carefree ways.

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The application of an existing story framework is certainly not out of bounds for a follow-up to Big Lebowski, which itself borrowed the structure of a Raymond Chandler crime novel.

The Jesus Rolls manages to emulate the stream of consciousness tone of Big Lebowski, and the two films are further connected through the heavy use of Gipsy Kings music (stemming from the fact that Quintana was originally introduced while a Gipsy Kings cover of “Hotel California” was playing). Turturro also provides the requisite fan service of reprising a few of Quintana’s notable lines from Big Lebowski, expands on a few details revealed about the character in his first appearance, and even works in one scene of him going bowling.

Otherwise, though, Turturro could be playing anybody, and the film completely stands on its own.

This latter point may explain why Turturro and Cannavale never directly mention The Big Lebowski in their commentary track for the film (the Blu-ray’s only bonus feature). Turturro also never discusses what motivated him to play Quintana in particular in his version of Going Places, though much of the commentary is devoted to his admiration for the French source material, and comparing the elements of them he included. The pair also discuss the process of low-budget indie filmmaking, and enjoy the acting touches provided by their fellow castmates.

They seem more amused by the material than many viewers might be, but the film does manage to find a few honest laughs in its own right.

All in all, some fun performances, fabulous music and Turturro’s commitment to one of his signature characters offer enough of a reason to at least check it out, especially for Big Lebowski fans.

Next Stop, Greenwich Village

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via ScreenArchives.com;
Twilight Time;
Drama;
$29.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Lenny Baker, Ellen Greene, Christopher Walken, Lois Smith, Shelley Winters.

Blume in Love has always been my favorite achievement from writer-director Paul Mazursky’s treasured output spanning (mostly but not exclusively) 1969 to 1978. But after seeing Next Stop, Greenwich Village for the first time in decades via this new Twilight Time release, it may have some competition. Even though the soundtrack’s Paul Desmond staples somewhat predate the story’s setting, not many musical selections would so instantly suck us into the milieu. And for bravery of the especially brazen sort, how do you put a price on a scene where Shelley Winters pulls her dress up in a tap dancing fantasy sequence?

After years of self-imposed exile, I’ve recently been spending a lot of time in Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan and even my old grad school alma mater NYU, which has probably made me susceptible — though, yeah, a Brooklyn girlfriend has inevitably helped — to this extraordinarily personal coming-of-age comedy-drama, though the milieu still seems a little seedy to a wider-open-spaces Midwestern type such as myself. But the movie rings true on its own merits without need of any outside boosting, thank you, and gets quite a shot from some casting in a couple roles that means more than it did at the time.

The last said, Village’s two leads are Lenny Baker, whose character-actor looks and premature death limited his screen career — and Ellen Greene, who scored only modestly in the movies, though she did also het to re-create her stage role in Frank Oz’s screen version of Little Shop of Horrors. Standing in as Mazursky’s autobiographical surrogate, Baker is the focus here, though Greene helps create such a determined soul here as his rocky squeeze that I suspect a lot of women come out of the picture affected by her own story, which involves a then illegal abortion and a fear of feeling trapped. Everyone here, by the way, benefits from exceptionally strong writing, though choice casting sampling from a pool of the era’s best New York actors really puts it over.

Much or even most of Village is about acting, which is the side of the profession Mazursky pursued before finding his true calling behind the camera; he was in Stanley Kubrick’s shaky debut pic Fear and Desire (and unlike Kubrick, seemed happy to enough to concede its existence), and then as one of the hoody classroom cutups who made Glenn Ford wish he were teaching home economics in Blackboard Jungle. The Brooklyn-to-GV subway ride isn’t very far in minutes, yet it separated two entire worlds in the more traditional ’50s, when moving away from one’s parents without the impetus of marriage could seem like an affront to a Jewish mother (and can Winters ever play a Jewish mother, or at least a certain identifiable brand of one). And to make things even worse with mom: Here’s Mazursky/Baker not even leaving to learn an honest trade but to pursue a perceived folly that attracts dream-world rabble.

And yet the mother, who reciprocally loves him but also drives him up the wall, is something of a closet case — as was Mazursky’s own — when it comes to her own show biz appreciation. Along these lines, she can also jitterbug for real (Winters’ aforementioned fantasy tap pops up in a slightly different context), which she ends up doing during another of her unannounced “drop-ins” — this one at a rent party full of assorted pro-Rosenberg bohemians dancing to and floating on vintage 78s and old-school beer bottles. Acquiescent to all this maybe 90% of the time is a passive husband played by the instantly familiar Mike Kellin — who, here (as was often the case in his other movies) had one of those faces that divulge his character’s entire story.

I love the casting here, which includes lifelong favorite Lois Smith, whose single scene in East of Eden got to me as a child and who’s still around these days (Lady Bird and Marjorie Prime in just the past year). But the big bonus points these days come courtesy of seeing Christopher Walken in his first role of real note: as the intellectual stud of the aspirants’ group and one whose surface charm betrays his lack of character. Walken at least gets billing, but the truly wondrous ambush here is an unbilled Jeff Goldblum, who shows up late to blow a hole in the screen with a couple scenes as a self-destructive neurotic who does everything in an audition to make the producers not even desirous of asking him to read. Not long after I began programming at the AFI Theater four decades-plus ago, a resourceful guest lecturer got Mazursky to bring a print of Village down to D.C. from New York for a pre-opening screening — just as he did with Martin Scorsese and Taxi Driver the same month. And I remember people (myself included) just marveling at Goldblum — the way we had a year earlier with Richard Dreyfuss as Baby Face Nelson in John Milius’s Dillinger — in a “Who is this guy?” kind of way. Added note to star-gazing completists: The mustached guy standing off to the side in a fairly early saloon scene is Bill Murray.

The standout, though (and about a quarter-century after she was a newcomer) has to be Winters, someone I’ve cracked wise on for a lot of years but an actress whose chutzpah I’ve also secretly admired for just as long. Due to a geographical scheduling conflict, I once had to turn down an opportunity to attend a small dinner with her, leaving it to a pair of AFI colleagues and also two of my closest friends to witness the sight of her taking off her pantyhose in a Georgetown restaurant. Greene and Mazursky both praise her to the sky here in a voiceover commentary from a previous release; the latter died in 2014, which points up the timeless value of home-release commentaries in general for all your streamer/pretenders out there.

I always thought Mazursky a particularly keen industry observer, dating back to the time I heard his claim (in a documentary) that when someone talks about the advance “word” on an unreleased movie, it means that “someone who hasn’t seen the picture talked to someone who hasn’t seen the picture.” Here, he matter-of-factly tosses off the assertion that Winters didn’t get a much deserved nomination for Village because it didn’t make money. Don’t you love it when someone gives voice to obvious truths that no one feels comfortable about addressing?

Mike’s Picks: ‘Next Stop, Greenwich Village’ and ‘Criss Cross’