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.

 

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Family;
Box Office $190.87 million;
$25.99 DVD, $31.99 Blu-ray, $35.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for action, some violence, rude humor, and mild language.
Stars Jim Carrey, James Marsden, Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, Adam Pally, Shemar Moore, Lee Majdoub, Tom Butler, Melody Nosipho Niemann. Voices of Ben Schwartz, Idris Elba, Colleen O’Shaughnessey.

The first Sonic the Hedgehog movie in 2020 was a relatively low-key affair in terms of adapting the Sega video game. Elements from the games were kept to a minimum, as the film focused mainly on establishing the speedy Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) on Earth by pairing him with a sheriff named Tom (James Marsden), who helped Sonic evade Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey).

After the success of that first film, for the sequel the filmmakers have opened up the world a bit, introducing more elements from the game, new characters and a lot of high-speed action. It’s a fun ride, especially for fans of the games and the first film, but it runs a bit long as the filmmakers can’t help but indulge in bringing their favorite moments from the game to life.

Robotnik, last seen at the end of the first film trapped on a mushroom planet, is found by the echidna warrior Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), who brings him back to Earth in order to track down Sonic. Knuckles believes Sonic is the key to locating a powerful artifact called the Master Emerald, while Robitnik just wants revenge, so they form an alliance. Meanwhile, Tails the flying fox arrives on Earth hoping to help Sonic against Knuckles.

Now that the big three characters from the game are in play, plus Robotnik sporting a look closer to his game appearance with a crazy moustache, the plot doesn’t need to rely on the human side characters as much, and finds an excuse to keep Sonic separated from Tom for most of the movie.

Sonic discovers the map given to him in the first film when he was sent to Earth contains clues to the location of the Master Emerald, setting off an Indiana Jones-type adventure quest as Sonic and Tails hope to find the jewel before Knuckles and Robotnik.

Tom, meanwhile, ventures to Hawaii for his sister-in-law’s wedding, in a storyline that eventually comes back around to tie into the main plot for a spectacular final boss level battle, but it’s a bit of a chore to get through as it feels like a conventional slapstick comedy tacked onto a video game fantasy movie.

Topping things off are some nice messages about teamwork and family.

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The film looks great in 4K and the game characters are rendered well, even if they look like cartoon characters dropped into a live-action world. Carrey’s over-the-top performance is probably the key to tying it all together as he’s basically a living cartoon character anyway.

Knuckles will likely be seen as the breakthrough character here, as Elba does some terrific voice work, and Paramount+ is developing a miniseries about the character for release in 2023. The film also lays some groundwork for a third film, which has been announced for 2024 since the second film did better than the first one at the box office.

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The Blu-ray includes a five-minute short film called “Sonic Drone Home” that is something of a follow-up to the movie, but is fully CG-animated.

Another highlight is the commentary from Schwartz and director Jeff Fowler, which continues the fun conversation the pair were having in the commentary from the first movie, as they discuss how the movie was made and point out more references to the games.

More behind-the-scenes details are revealed in five featurettes that run a total of about 20 minutes.

Also included are 17 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes, three minutes of bloopers, a humorous Q&A with Schwartz, and a Kid Cudi music video for the song “Stars in the Sky.”

The Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Blu-rays are not offered as combo packs, and are configured as either a standalone 4K disc or a standalone regular Blu-ray. Each has all the bonus material plus a code for a digital copy.

Netflix Renews ‘Dead to Me’ for Third and Final Season, Expands Partnership With Creator Liz Feldman

Netflix has announced a new multiyear creative partnership with producer Liz Feldman for original series and other projects. Under the agreement, the dark comedy series “Dead to Me” created by Feldman will return to Netflix for a third and final season.

“Liz Feldman is a comedic force who brings her fresh and distinct point of view to every element of the creative process from inception through writing and producing,” Jane Wiseman, Netflix VP of comedy series, said in a statement. “We could not be more excited to expand our relationship with Liz and continue to work with her on ‘Dead to Me’ and future series to come.”

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Produced by CBS Television Studios for Netflix, “Dead to Me” stars Christina Applegate as Jen and Linda Cardellini as Judy, a pair of women whose lives become intertwined through grief and murder after Judy and her ex-fiancé, Steve (James Marsden) accidentally kill Jen’s husband in a hit-and-run.

Executive Producers on “Dead to Me” include Feldman, Applegate, Jessica Elbaum, Christie Smith, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, with Cardellini as co-executive producer.

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“From start to finish, ‘Dead to Me’ is exactly the show I wanted to make,” Feldman said in a statement. “And it’s been an incredible gift. Telling a story sprung from grief and loss has stretched me as an artist and healed me as a human. I’ll be forever indebted to my partners in crime, my friends for life, Christina and Linda, and our brilliantly talented writers, cast and crew. I am beyond grateful to Netflix for supporting ‘Dead to Me’ from day one, and I’m thrilled to continue our collaboration.”

Sonic the Hedgehog

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Family;
Box Office $146.01 million;
$28.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG’ for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language.
Stars James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Jim Carrey.

The long-awaited movie version of the famed Sonic the Hedgehog SEGA video game offers a charming if formulaic adventure for everyone’s favorite furry blue speedster.

Ben Schwartz voices Sonic, who is essentially a cartoon character planted in the real world. When Sonic’s native dimension, which looks more like the fantasy worlds of loops and jumps from the video game, is overrun by bad guys looking to steal his power, Sonic is sent to hide on Earth, left with only a bag of magical rings that can be used to open gateways to other worlds.

Settling into a lair in the forests of Montana, Sonic spends his days reading comic books and spying on the local town to get a sense of the life he has to avoid by not making his existence known to humanity. A mishap at a baseball field, in which Sonic decides to use his speed to play all the positions at the same time, causes a massive electrical surge that draws the attention of the U.S. government. They send in Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate.

As Sonic prepares to leave Earth by conjuring a portal to a another dimension, he inadvertently attracts the attention of the local sheriff, Tom (James Marsden), causing his bag of rings to get lost in San Francisco. So Sonic and Tom set off on a road trip to retrieve them, pursued by the technological minions of Robotnik, who seeks the secrets to Sonic’s speed powers for himself.

While the film transplants Sonic’s story to Earth, it peppers the screen with plenty of references to the game, from the names of locations to the use of Sonic’s theme in the musical score.

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Schwartz turns in a delightful vocal performance as the wisecracking hedgehog, while Carrey returns to his zany form as the over-the-top villain. The screen pops with colors and visual delights, paying off the studio’s decision to redesign Sonic into a more cutesy cartoon creature rather than the more photorealistic attempt that freaked out audiences in the original trailer.

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The Blu-ray includes a nice commentary track from Schwartz and director Jeff Fowler as they discuss the fun they had making the film while pointing out some of the references to the game. The disc also includes three behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about 12 minutes, plus a neat six-minute video about the history of Sonic from his video game origins.

Fans looking for more Sonic will find him in a two-minute “Around the World in 80 Seconds” short in which Sonic describes visiting different places to his journal. There are also five decent deleted sequences, running about 14 minutes and with unfinished visuals, with an introduction by Fowler.

Rounding out the bonus materials are a four-minute music video and a two-minute blooper reel.

Second Season of ‘Westworld’ on Disc Dec. 4

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release Westworld: Season Two — The Door on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on Dec. 4.

The HBO series was recently nominated for 21 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Drama Series.

In the 10-episode second season, the futuristic theme park’s robotic hosts have become aware of their existence and plot their liberation and retaliation against humankind. The cast includes Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden and Tessa Thompson.

The season will be released through digital channels July 23 with new bonus content. The Blu-ray editions will also include a digital copy of the season.

Digital and Blu-ray extras include three “Bring Yourself Back Online” featurettes: “Reflections on Season Two — Dolores, Teddy and Bernard; “Of Love and Shogun — Maeve, Hector and Lee”; and “Journeys and Technology — Stubbs, Logan and Clementine.” Also included will be the featurettes “The Buzz: On the Red Carpet” and “Return To Westworld.” Additional featurettes will be grouped under “Creating Westworld’s Reality” — “An Evocative Location,” “Fort Forlorn Hope,” “The Delos Experiment,” “Shogun World,” “Inside the Cradle,” “Chaos In The Mesa,” “Ghost Nation,” “Deconstructing Maeve,” “The Valley Beyond” and ‘The Drone Hosts.”

The Blu-ray will also include the featurettes “Paved With the Best Intentions: The Evolution of the DELOS Corp.” and “Violent Delights Have Violent .”

The limited-edition UHD Blu-ray will feature Dolby Vision. The UHD and Blu-ray editions will feature Dolby Atmos soundtracks remixed specifically for the home theater environment.