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.

 

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/12/23;
Shout! Studios;
Comedy;
$19.98 DVD, $26.98 Blu-ray, $36.98 UHD BD;
Not rated.
Stars Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson, Thomas Lennon, Spencer Treat Clark, Julianne Nicholson, Toby Huss, Arturo Castro, Will Forte, Jack Black, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quinta Brunson, Diedrich Bader, “Weird Al” Yankovic.

What else would a movie about the life of song parody specialist “Weird Al” Yankovic be but a spoof of musician biopics?

Based on a fake trailer posted by Funny or Die in 2010, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story pokes fun at the music scene and pop culture in the 1980s.

It begins with a young, misunderstood boy whose parents discouraged his dream of writing goofy new lyrics for established songs, telling him that, for the sake of the family, he should “stop being who you are and doing the things you love” and get a job at the local factory.

Instead, the adult Al Yankovic (Daniel Radcliffe) moves to Hollywood with a passion for the accordion, but is rejected by the record labels. Taking his talents to open mic nights at bars, he’s discovered by novelty act radio broadcaster Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson), and quickly becomes the bad boy of the music industry, sparking a relationship with Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) that takes him down a dark path and a confrontation with drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.

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Needless to say, almost none of this actually happened. But the film is a treasure trove of laughs for fans of Yankovic’s songs who will most appreciate the meta humor on display. For instance, in Al’s first meeting with the brothers who run his record label, one of them berates him as a worthless, no-talent hack while the camera cuts to the other brother, who is played by the real “Weird Al,” wincing in discomfort at the insults.

But the film’s best scene might be a take-off on the pool party from Boogie Nights, as Al is introduced to the wacky menagerie of the offbeat personalities and oddballs of the 1970s and ’80s, and is challenged by Wolfman Jack (a precision cameo by Jack Black) to come up with a parody song on the spot, which Al defiantly does to cement his path toward becoming a legend.

However, Al quickly becomes disenchanted by his success as a parody artist, and endeavors to create his own original songs. So after a drug-infused vision straight out of The Doors, he writes “Eat It,” leading to one of the film’s better running jokes that posits musicians such as Michael Jackson are actually parodying Yankovic’s songs. (There’s a bit of irony here as the real-life Yankovic has plenty of originals in his catalog, though still in a humorous vein.)

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Just to complete the journey of his life’s work, Yankovic contributes a new song for the end credits, as no blockbuster would be complete without a new tune cynically produced for awards-season bait. (The song, “Now You Know,” was indeed nominated for an Emmy).

There is nothing here to be taken seriously, but plenty to appreciate for the hilariously dumb fun that it is, just like Yankovic’s music.

Originally released for streaming by the Roku Channel in 2022, Weird makes its way to 4K, Blu-ray and DVD from Shout! Studios with an extensive selection of bonus materials.

The 4K combo pack includes the film on both a 4K disc and a regular Blu-ray Disc, and offers an informative commentary track with Yankovic and director Eric Appel in which they discuss pretty much every aspect of the production.

There are no additional extras on the 4K disc, but plenty on the Blu-ray.

Yankovic and Appel also appear in a 24-and-a-half-minute video in which they introduce and discuss a number of deleted, extended and alternate scenes which are pretty funny but were ultimately removed for timing and tone issues. The segment includes about a dozen unused clips.

Also included is a four-minute making-of featurette, and numerous clips of the stars hitting the interview circuit. Included are Yankovic and Radcliffe on “Late Night with Seth Meyers: (10 minutes); TheWrap.com interviewing Yankovic and Appel (four minutes); and Variety.com interviewing Radcliffe, Wood and Appel at the Toronto International Film Festival (eight minutes). There’s also a two-minute IMDb.com video about the cameos in the pool party scene.

Rounding out the extras is a five-minute lyric video for “Now You Know,” the film’s trailers, and a two-minute montage of Yankovic doing Roku promos of the film.

About the only thing not included is the original Funny or Die trailer, which can be found easily enough online.

Originally published as a streaming review Nov. 13, 2022.

Lego Star Wars Summer Vacation

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Animated;
Not rated.
Voices of “Weird Al” Yankovic, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Dee Bradley Baker, James Arnold Taylor, Kelly Marie Tran, Helen Sadler, Matt Lannter, Matt Sloan, Omar Benson Miller, Ross Marquand, Shelby Young, Thomas Lennon, Trevor Devall.

The “Lego Star Wars” animated specials have the uncanny ability to both parody the brand while telling interesting tales set within it, and Summer Vacation is no exception.

The core story finds the sequel-era characters getting together for a trip to the starship Halcyon — a bit of brand synergy that ties into Walt Disney World’s new immersive “Star Wars” hotel role-play experience. Set following the events of Rise of Skywalker, the special focuses on Finn’s worries that the group won’t be together much longer as they have separate destinies to fulfill — a premise that makes good use of the “family” theme introduced by John Williams in the last film.

Despite his efforts to organize group activities on the ship, they get split up, prompting Finn to sulk at the bar where he is encountered by the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi, who tells him of a time he helped a Rebel spy infiltrate Jabba’s palace by singing Karaoke at one of the Hutt lord’s parties.

Next, the ghost of Anakin Skywalker recalls a trip to the tropical beaches of Scarif (the planet from the end of Rogue One), where the Emperor insisted on winning several contests for the beachgoers due to his obsession with ruling everything.

Finally, the ghost of Leia tells of a family vacation to Endor where young Ben Solo tried to impress a girl by letting her friends steal the Millennium Falcon.

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The sight gags mostly work, but the strength of the show is in staying true to the essence of the characters, which results in some unexpected moments of sentimentality. The portrayal of the Emperor-Vader relationship is the most over-the-top, straying closer to “Robot Chicken” territory as Palpatine acts like Cobra Commander in his obnoxious quest to dominate everything.

Another highlight is the voice cameo of “Weird Al” Yankovic as the beach party MC singing “Scarif Beach Party.” This lets Al add on to his oeuvre of “Star Wars” songs that previously included “Yoda” and “The Saga Begins.”

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Fox Bringing ‘Dog Days’ Home in November

The comedy Dog Days will be released through digital retailers Nov. 6 and on DVD Nov. 20 from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The film follows a group of strangers whose lives intertwine as a result of their dogs. The cast includes Vanessa Hudgens, Jon Bass, Nina Dobrev, Adam Pally, Eva Longoria, Rob Corddry, Finn Wolfhard, Ron Cephas Jones and Thomas Lennon.

Dog Days earned $6.8 million at the domestic box office.

Eastwood’s ’15:17 to Paris’ Coming Home in May

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release director Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris digitally May 1, and on Blu-ray and DVD May 22.

The docu-drama recounts the story of three Americans — Anthony Sadler, Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone — who stopped a terrorist attack on a train in Europe in 2015.

Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone play themselves in the film, joined by a cast that includes Jenna Fischer, Judy Greer, Ray Corasani, P.J. Byrne, Tony Hale and Thomas Lennon. Paul-Mikél Williams plays the younger Anthony, Bryce Gheisar plays the younger Alek and William Jennings plays the younger Spencer.

The Blu-ray and DVD will include the featurette “Portrait of Courage,” in which Eastwood and his creative team discuss how the story inspired them and why they moved to have the three Americans to play themselves.

The Blu-ray will include the additional featurette “Making Every Second Count,” in which Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler take viewers moment-by-moment through the real-life drama, just as they lived it.