Unfrosted

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix;
Comedy;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some suggestive references and language.
Stars Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, Amy Schumer, Max Greenfield, Hugh Grant, Melissa McCarthy, Christian Slater, Cedric the Entertainer, Adrian Martinez, James Marsden, Maria Bakalova, Peter Dinklage, Thomas Lennon, Bobby Moynihan, Fred Armisen, Darrell Hammond.

Jerry Seinfeld fingered political correctness as the blame for the current deluge of comedians edging away from satirical edginess. When it came time for the corporate spokesperson for American comedy to do something to brighten the landscape by staging a mordant blitzkrieg of his own, he played patty cake when a melee was in order. I must confess to having never seen an episode of “Seinfeld.” It has nothing to do with the show or its star — Jerry Seinfeld’s appearances on Carson and Letterman were tight, easily relatable, and frequently hilarious sets of observational stand-up. The arrival of VCRs on the scene soon enabled anyone with a video store membership and/or cable box to become their own programmers, forever relegating network television to the dustbin of antiquity. When a comedian directs, I’m there. Unfrosted is his first shot behind-the-camera on a feature-length narrative. As a director, Jerry Seinfeld is an exceptional stand-up.

To say the film is loosely based on the war between American cereal conglomerates (and Michigan neighbors) Post (Amy Schumer) and Kellogg’s (Jim Gaffigan) to come up with a fruit-filled, toaster-ready breakfast cake is putting it mildly. Anyone familiar with the TV version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas can close their eyes and hear the voice of the cartoon’s star, Thurl Ravenscroft, playing in their head. He also provided the voice for venerable cartoon cereal big-cat, Tony the Tiger. Ravenscroft no sooner conceived of Tony’s “They’re Gr-r-reat!” catchphrase than he did cream depilatory. The slogan had been in place before Thurl’s trilled “r’s’” thrilled their way through a 50-year run as Kellogg’s sepulchral-throated breakfast food mascot. A Life Magazine ad features none other than Groucho Marx being upstaged by the Sugar Frosted Flakes pitchman’s tagline, “You bet your life they’re Gr-r-reat!” All of this took place almost a decade before the narrative kicks off in 1963. 

But wait. There’s more! The attention to period detail is abysmal. The Oscar Mayer hot dogs packaging on display bore little resemblance to their 1963 predecessors. Ditto the whoopie cushions — What? No “Poo! Poo!” — that appear to have been plucked off a Party City pegboard by a plucky production assistant. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and “Wooly Bully” are both featured prominently on the soundtrack even though neither song existed in 1963. A reference to Ravenscroft’s (Hugh Grant) “Burger King crown” is a cute but factually bankrupt notion, seeing how the first BK franchise didn’t open until 1963. If one is paying more attention to anachronisms, whizzing past like a picket fence in a hurtling roadster, than they are storytelling, the filmmakers aren’t doing their job.

Seinfeld told Entertainment Weekly his aim was to make the anti-Barbie. The Mattel-a-thon was the biggest moneymaker in Warner Bros. history while the box office cereal killer Seinfeld envisioned never materialized. (In that sense, he met his goal.) Rather than setting his sights high on the smash hit of all time, Seinfeld would have been better served by taking a nod from John Lee Hancock’s Ray Kroc biopic The Founder, a film so meticulously plotted and researched, one could learn how to build a fast food empire strictly by paying attention.

The list of cameo appearances — Thomas Lennon, Bobby Moynihan, Fred Armisen, Darrell Hammond — read like SNL opening credits. Also joining the fun with very little to do are Max Greenfield, Hugh Grant, Melissa McCarthy, Christian Slater, Cedric the Entertainer, Adrian Martinez, James Marsden, Maria Bakalova, and Peter Dinklage. A Godfather-esque meeting of the five cereal families — Kellogg’s, Post, Quaker, Ralston Purina and General Mills — that must have sounded so funny on paper, never stood a chance under Seinfeld’s freshman lens. In the least, Barbie had a consistent visual style, limited though it might be, and a corporate history to fall back on. Unfrosted’s eagerness to play fast and loose with the truth is the film’s biggest drawback. I spent the better portion of three hours reading up on Kellogg’s and 90% of what passed my eyes bore greater comedic interest than any of the word association nostalgia soup Seinfeld and his trio of writers serve up. Seinfeld even has the gall to rip off Albert Brooks’ oracular lip-moving ventriloquist routine right down to naming the dummy Danny.

Perhaps the subject would have been best suited to animation. The only reason Battle Creek Michigan sticks out in my brain is through the Hanna-Barbera cartoons that date back as far as my memory. Kellogg’s sponsored cartoon superstars Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw and Snagglepuss, while Post represented Ruff and Ready, the Flintstones (Fred, Wilma, Pebbles and Dino) and the Rubbles (Betty, Barney and Bamm-Bamm). Imagine a “Roger Rabbit” frame up between the two factions of H/B heavyweights that results in an animation studio civil war. Anything would have been funnier than the cow farts and a stock Nazi buffoon that’s enough to place even the most woke audience in a somnambulistic coma.

 

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Animated;
Box Office $572.97 million;
$34.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for action and mild violence.
Voices of Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Keegan-Michael Key, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen, Sebastian Maniscalco, Kevin Michael Richardson, Khary Payton, Charles Martinet.

Most movies based on video games tend to be unsatisfying because the process of Hollywood writers digesting the essence of the game for mainstream audiences usually makes the final product unrecognizable to the games’ fans.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie bucks that trend by essentially just putting a video game on the big screen. The film takes iconic elements straight from several video games connected to the “Super Mario Bros.” franchise and condenses them into a single narrative. And in doing so, the film isn’t trying to be anything more than what it is — an adaptation of a series of video games about a pair of plumbers fighting a fire-breathing turtle king in a land of magic mushrooms.

It gets away with such a distillation because the animation lends itself to the bright flashy visual splendor of the games and doesn’t create an expectation of realism, which is the trap most game adaptations fall into. The 1993 live-action version of Super Mario Bros., for instance, was an unmitigated disaster because it reinterpreted the concept into an action sci-fi movie.

The animated version features brothers Mario and Luigi (voiced by Chris Pratt and Charlie Day) struggling to establish their own plumbing business when by happenstance they find themselves sucked through a pipe into a fantasy realm of strange creatures where the laws of physics no longer apply. When Luigi is captured by Bowser (Jack Black), Mario teams with Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) to rescue him and prevent the king of the Koopas from dominating the magical realms.

Everything in the fantasy kingdoms works just like it does in the video games, with power-ups that give characters boosts in strength and speed that come from floating bricks with question marks on them. The film doesn’t dwell on why everything looks like it does from the video games because it’s easy enough to accept that the Mario Bros. have simply been sucked into Nintendo World.

From there, the film features a ton of references to various “Mario” properties over the years, from his 1981 debut in Donkey Kong to Mario Kart, more than enough to satisfy most fans of the games. For older fans, there’s a reference to the rap intro of the 1989 “Super Mario Bros. Super Show” starring Capt. Lou Albano, so what’s not to love? The score is even design to incorporate beloved musical themes from the “Super Mario” games, which only adds to the nostalgia factor.

And since the Mario Bros. have had a ubiquitous presence in pop culture for the past 40 years, being a hardcore fan of the games isn’t a requirement to enjoy what turns out to be an entertaining movie in general.

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The “Power Up Edition” Blu-ray includes a number of fun featurettes about the making of the film.

The 18-minute “Getting to Know the Cast” offers several vignettes profiling the voice actors and the roles they play. The 27-minute “Leveling Up: Making The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is a six-part look at the production, which was overseen by Nintendo to make sure it didn’t stray too far from its video game roots; included is a look at various Easter Eggs in the film, particularly to some of the non-“Mario” Nintendo games referenced.

The seven-minute “The Super Mario Bros. Movie Field Guide” features various cast members explaining elements from the game depicted in the film, while the three-minute “Leadership Lessons” has Anya Taylor-Joy describing five lessons that make Peach an effective princess for her people.

Rounding out the package is a sing-along music video of Jack Black singing Bowser’s song “Peaches.”

In the 4K combo pack, the full extras are included on both the 4K disc and the regular Blu-ray.

Jay & Silent Bob Reboot

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 1/21/20;
Lionsgate;
Comedy;
Box Office $3.41 million;
$19.98 DVD, $21.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for pervasive strong crude sexual content, language throughout, drug use and some nudity.
Stars Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Harley Quinn Smith, Shannon Elizabeth, Jason Lee, Fred Armisen.

The latest addition to Kevin Smith’s View-Askewniverse is an unexpected treat for longtime fans of the filmmaker’s work. That it even exists is somewhat of a miracle.

Smith had been trying to make Clerks III, but when one of the key actors dropped out, he shelved the project. With progress on a Mallrats sequel also stalled, Smith instead wrote another “Jay & Silent Bob” movie, with the urging of his long-time friend and co-star Jason Mewes, who plays the stoner Jay in the films alongside Smith’s Silent Bob. But before production began, Smith suffered a heart attack in early 2018, though he eventually recovered.

As a result, Jay & Silent Bob Reboot might be Smith’s most personal film since 1997’s Chasing Amy, though in a completely different way. Where that film, his third, was an introspective rumination on the fleeting nature of young love, his latest romp is a comedic reflection of his entire career, and more often than not a parody of it, while also taking aim at Hollywood’s penchant for remakes, reboots and an endless string of comic book movies.

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Chasing Amy also happens to be an apropos starting point for dissecting Reboot, since that’s the film that gave birth to the idea of the Jay and Silent Bob drug dealer characters being the inspiration for the fictional “Bluntman and Chronic” comic book featured at the heart of that film’s story.

Reboot unabashedly tells the same story, albeit updated, as 2001’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, in which the duo, fearing damage to their reputations, trekked from New Jersey to Hollywood in an attempt to stop a film version of “Bluntman and Chronic” from being made.

Jay and Silent Bob end up profiting from that film (see Clerks II), but after 18 years the studio wants to reboot it, and through some legal maneuvers manage to gain copyright control over the duo’s actual identities, preventing them from using their own names. As a result, they scheme to return to Hollywood to disrupt production of the reboot, too. The twist now is that the reboot’s director is Kevin Smith, playing a fictional version of himself.

Along the way, Jay and Silent Bob join forces with a rebellious teen (played by Smith’s real-life daughter, Harley Quinn Smith) and her friends, as they make their way to “Chronic-Con,” a blatant spoof of Comic-Con. Smith manages to work references to nearly all his previous movies into the adventure, including updating the audience on what happened to a few of the main characters from the shared universe (and even answering a 25-year-old question that lingered back to his original film, 1994’s Clerks).

This is all catnip for Smith’s fans, who can easily forgive the juvenile humor and crude behavior surrounding the central antagonists, even as the story veers off the rails in its final act. Such are the trademark selling points of Smith’s works, not drawbacks, in a way only someone such as Smith could get away with. These are at their core stoner comedies, after all.

Sophistication isn’t the goal here, just the boundless energy and sense of fun of a pop-culture-obsessed filmmaker embracing what he loves. Smith even manages to sneak in a few heartfelt moments of character, paying off decades of the audience’s investment in their stories.

And, seemingly as a result of the goodwill generated by the film’s roadshow tour, the departed Clerks III cast member decided to sign up after all, and it looks like that film is now a go, too.

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The film’s home video editions offer a few interesting, if somewhat unstructured, behind the scenes material. Primary among them is nearly an hour of cast interviews that have been cobbled together as some sort of ersatz making-of documentary. Presenting their thoughts without the framework of an interviewer, they mostly talk about their characters and the wackiness of the story.

Then, there’s a separate half hour of Smith and Mewes interviewing their co-stars.

Rounding out the extras are a 10-minute blooper reel and two minutes of Smith and Mewes fixing their Jay and Silent Bob hair.