YOU PEOPLE (2023) – Netflix Romantic Comedy Generates Few Sparks

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YOU PEOPLE (2023), a new Netflix rom com starring Jonah Hill and Lauren London, is the latest example of a movie done in by its trailer, which reveals all its best parts.

I watched the trailer for YOU PEOPLE and laughed out loud. I laughed less watching the actual movie, because I had already seen its best bits and there wasn’t more to this one not revealed in the preview. And I know this isn’t the filmmakers’ fault, because they don’t control the trailers, but sadly this is still a thing, and when it happens, it does hurt the movie. In other words, if the trailer is better than the movie, that’s a real problem.

I continue to believe that comedy is the most difficult genre to get right in the movies, because unlike other bad movies, where when they are so bad you can at least laugh at them, a bad comedy, where you are supposed to be laughing, there’s nothing left to do when you’re not laughing.

The other issue with YOU PEOPLE is that as it goes along, it becomes less comedic and more romantic, and so if you are into rom coms, you will like this one more than I did. A bigger issue is the two romantic leads, Jonah Hill and Lauren London, don’t really generate a lot of onscreen chemistry together, and so I wasn’t really buying their romance. Plus, and I’m showing my age here, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and David Duchovny all play parents here, and I found their characters the most interesting and enjoyable in the movie and wished the story had been about them. But it’s not.

YOU PEOPLE, in a variation of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? (1967, and tons of remakes over the years), is the story of a young white male Ezra (Jonah Hill) and a young black female Amira (Lauren London) who meet, fall in love, and decide to get married, but they have to deal with their parents first. Ezra’s parents Shelley (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Arnold (David Duchovny) are very Jewish, and while they try to be liberal and open-minded, they constantly put their feet in their mouths. Likewise, Amira’s parents Akbar (Eddie Murphy) and Fatima (Nia Long) are very Muslim, and the two families are like oil and water. Plus, Akbar pretty much decides to make Ezra’s life a living hell to pry him away from his daughter.

Finally, because their families and cultures are so different, Ezra and Amira decide to call off their wedding, believing that there are just too many differences to overcome. This is the one true and honest moment in the movie, and as sad as this admission is on our modern-day culture and society, had this plot point been allowed to stand, that would have been quite the statement. But YOU PEOPLE isn’t interested in statements. At the end of the day, it’s a rom com, and so Akbar and Shelley decide that they have done wrong by their adult children and decide to make amends and make things right. If you like happy endings, you’ll be satisfied with the direction YOU PEOPLE eventually takes.

YOU PEOPLE was directed by Kenya Barris, who gives this one a rapid fire pace early on, but then things slow down during the movie’s second half. Barris shares screenplay credit with Jonah Hill. This one makes its points early, that trying to have a relationship with someone from a very different culture is difficult, but how things all play out later isn’t very satisfying. The two leads seem to like each other less and less, and so you would think they’d break it off for that reason alone, and the families don’t exactly behave all that realistically, and so the situations which could be comical don’t exactly ring true which gets in the way of the comedy.

The film’s best sequence, again, revealed in the film’s trailer, is the dinner scene where the two families meet for the first time.

Like I said, the two leads, Jonah Hill and Lauren London, don’t share much onscreen chemistry. I never really believed in their romance. Hill rings most true early on, when his character laments about how he just can’t find the right person.

I can watch Eddie Murphy all day, and whenever he was onscreen, I was enjoying this one, even if his character wasn’t all that likable. The same can be said for Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Again, I found myself wishing this movie had been about the two of them. David Duchovny is also enjoyable here as Jonah’s father Arnold, but to a lesser degree, since the story focuses more on Louis-Dreyfus’ mom character, Shelley. Nia Long plays Amira’s mom Fatima, and we just saw Long play another mom in the recent thriller MISSING (2023).

Based on the film’s trailer, I had higher hopes for YOU PEOPLE, but ultimately, I didn’t like this one very much. I never believed the two characters played by Jonah Hill and Lauren London were really in love, and the comedy which wasn’t all that strong to begin with gives way to romance as the film moves towards its conclusion.

Veteran actors Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and David Duchovny are the best parts of this one, with Murphy leading the way. The film is at its best whenever Murphy is onscreen. But it’s a supporting role, and he’s not onscreen all that much.

As a result, I give YOU PEOPLE two stars.

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RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

Worst Movies of 2021

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Welcome back! As promised, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021.

As I did with my Best Movies List, I’m placing an asterisk next to this one, as once again, the pandemic has prevented trips to the movie theaters from being a safe activity, and so with this in mind, I know we haven’t all seen the same movies since we are not all heading out to the movie theaters to see the same national releases. I know there are plenty of movies I missed this year.

Okay, let’s get on with it. Without further hesitation, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021:

10. CRY MACHO – probably the dullest movie I watched all year. Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this tale of a former rodeo star (Eastwood) who goes to Mexico to bring back his boss’s teenage son to the States, and along the way, the two form a bond in this underwhelming buddy movie. While I am in awe of Clint Eastwood, who at 91 years old, is still making quality movies, the story here in CRY MACHO doesn’t do him any favors. The storytelling is muddled, and Eastwood seems to be playing a character who is much younger than 91, although the script never makes this clear. Not much to like about this one, even for Eastwood fans.

9. FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 – Yeah, I know. For a lot of folks, this second installment in the Netflix FEAR STREET horror movie trilogy was the best of the lot, but for me, it was the worst. Each part served as an homage to a particular horror movie genre, and here in FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 that genre is the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies. I’m going to ruffle more feathers here as well when I say honestly that I’ve never liked the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies and have found them all to be particularly bad. FEAR STREET: PART TWO does a nice job capturing the feel of these movies, but at the end of the day, it’s yet another variation of teenagers at a summer camp being slaughtered in the most unrealistically gruesome of ways. If that’s your cup of tea, you probably love this movie. But it’s not mine. I prefer intelligence in my horror.

8. GODZILLA VS. KONG – Again, this is one that a lot of people really liked, but for me, even as a fan of giant monster movies, especially King Kong movies, and Godzilla movies as well, this one was simply bad. I find it difficult to understand why this movie has so many fans when its script is so weak. The human characters are all forgettable, the situations unrealistic and uninspiring, and the dialogue is pretty poor. So, all you have left are the giant monsters in combat. And even those scenes didn’t do much for me. I know the argument is out there that that’s how the old Toho Godzilla movies all were. That’s a fair argument, up to a point. What always saved the Toho films was that Godzilla and his friends all had personality. The monsters in these modern-day versions do not. Plus, movies like KING KONG (1933) and THEM! (1954) did have superior scripts. These new giant monster movies do not. Instead, the modern-day giant monster movie (mostly Godzilla and Kong these days) has been reduced to special effects only, without any interest in creating any kind of a story worth telling.

7. COMING 2 AMERICA – the original COMING TO AMERICA (1988) starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall was very funny. This sequel, in spite of the return of Murphy and Hall, is not. Next movie…

6. TYGER TYGER – this was a movie that I fully expected to like, because it was so different and quirky, with a sense of style that I thought would make it a winner. But this tale of a pair of selfless robbers who kidnap a drug addict before they all find themselves hiding out in a bizarre psychedelic city is probably better enjoyed when you’re high! Seriously! The longer this one went on, the less sense it made, and by the time it was all over, it largely had become a wasted opportunity. No pun intended!

5. THE LITTLE THINGS – in spite of the presence of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto this one just doesn’t work. Washington plays a former detective who’s called in to help with a serial killer case, and the character he plays is known for spotting the little things others miss in these cases. Trouble is, the script barely shows him doing this. Malek plays the hotshot detective who calls in Washington for help, but the choices he makes throughout the movie make him seen anything but a hotshot detective. And Leto plays the man they suspect is the serial killer. This one should have been awesome. Instead, it’s a muddled meandering tale that gets worse as it goes along with a particularly weak ending.

4. WITHOUT REMORSE- With a script by one of my favorite screenwriters, Taylor Sheridan, I fully expected to like this adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, but instead it proved to be Sheridan’s first real misfire. Michael B. Jordan plays an elite Navy Seal who’s gone rogue to solve the murder of his wife, only to find— of course— that it’s all part of a larger conspiracy. What. A. Surprise. Yawn.

And now, the drum roll please. Here are my Top 3 Worst Movies from 2021:

3. SWEET GIRL -Hands down, the worst action movie of the year. Jason Momoa plays a man who vows revenge against a pharmaceutical company after its “business decision” pulled a drug from the market which could have saved his terminally ill wife. So, hubby goes insane and plots to kill the heads of this company, who, while they are undesirable, probably don’t deserve to be killed. So, there’s that initial problem. But wait, there’s more! There’s a larger conspiracy! Of course, there always is. Plus, Momoa’s character against his better judgement is constantly bringing his teenage daughter with him and training her to protect herself and be an assassin vigilante like him… and then, thanks to a bizarre plot twist, his character disappears from the second half of the movie. So, yes, you have an action film headlined by Jason Momoa, that halfway through ditches its star. Ugh.

2. MADRES – the worst horror movie of the year. This tale of a Mexican American couple who move to a new community in 1970s California that seems to have a weird sinister secret involving pregnant women, doesn’t know how to get out of its own way. The film aims for a ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) vibe but fails on both counts. This one is based on true events, and its reveal at the end is actually very good, but the problem is the film tries so hard to hide this reveal with a supernatural tale that is so lame it makes the movie completely ineffective. Had the filmmakers chosen to focus on what this film is ultimately about, it would have been a far darker, more memorable movie.

And now, drum roll please, the Worst Movie of 2021:

1. THUNDER FORCE – by far, the worst comedy of the year. Melissa McCarthy plays a woman who inherits superpowers thanks to her scientist friend played by Octavia Spencer. They then take on the world’s supervillains. Should have been funny. But it’s not. Jason Bateman fares the best as a supervillain known as The Crab. Written and directed by McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone.

And there you have it. My picks for the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021. Now, let’s move on to 2022.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

COMING 2 AMERICA (2021) – Eddie Murphy Sequel Amiable But Not All That Funny

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COMING 2 AMERICA (2021) has “2” things working against it.

It’s a sequel, and it’s a comedy.

I’m telling you, the hardest movies to make these days are comedies. Good ones are really hard to find.

That being said, this sequel to COMING TO AMERICA (1988), a John Landis comedy which starred Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, while it struggles to be both funny and tell a worthwhile story, it at least remains playful throughout. I had fun watching COMING 2 AMERICA. I just didn’t laugh all that much.

COMING 2 AMERICA, available now on Prime Video, reunites Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in a movie for the first time in thirty years, as they last starred together in HARLEM NIGHTS (1989). As a big fan of Eddie Murphy, he’s the main reason I wanted to check out COMING 2 AMERICA. I remember liking COMING TO AMERICA back in 1988, although I wouldn’t list it as one of my favorite Murphy movies. And Murphy was outstanding in the recent DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019), a Netflix original which I thought was Murphy’s best work in years. While I didn’t expect the same quality here in this sequel, I was excited to see Murphy in a movie again all the same.

And that’s pretty much how COMING 2 AMERICA played out. As a movie, it’s okay. The fun was watching Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, as well as Wesley Snipes, Tracy Morgan, John Amos, and James Earl Jones on screen. All of these folks have their moments, although none of these moments are all that uproarious.

The story told in COMING 2 AMERICA is rather simple and not terribly important, other than a nod to equality for women here in 2021 which was nice to see but predictable.

Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) becomes King Akeem of the African kingdom of Zamunda when his father King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones) passes away. And he rules this kingdom with his wife Lisa (Shari Headley) and their three daughters, which poses a problem for Akeem. He needs a male heir to take over the throne after him. When he learns he has a bastard son living in America, he decides to return there to find him. So, Akeem and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) return to New York and there find Akeem’s son Lavelle (Jermain Fowler) who agrees to return with them to Zamunda, where he learns the ways of becoming a prince. Meanwhile, in the film’s only relevant moments, Lisa attempts to point out to Akeem that he was the one who was supposed to make sweeping changes in the kingdom but instead has become like his father and changed nothing, and she points out that their oldest daughter has been training her whole life to succeed her father in leading the kingdom, but he has bypassed her because she’s a woman. As one would expect in a comedy sequel, these words do make their mark on Akeem and he eventually comes around to 2021 thinking.

Again, COMING 2 AMERICA is likable enough, but it just isn’t all that funny. By far, the funniest parts are the barbershop scenes, where both Eddie Murphy and Arsenio hall reprise their old barbershop characters from the first movie. These scenes are funny, very funny, but there’s only a couple.

Eddie Murphy is enjoyable to watch, but the role hardly gives him anything to do. In fact, he’s almost the straight man throughout to other characters’ antics, and Eddie Murphy as the straight man to others’ comedy is never a good thing. If you want to see Murphy really strutting his stuff, you want to check out DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.

Likewise, Arsenio Hall’s moments are also few and far between. The same can be said for Wesley Snipes as General Izzi, who had never made a movie with Eddie Murphy before DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, and now he’s appeared in two movies with Murphy in two years.

Tracy Morgan probably fares the best as Lavelle’s uncle Reem. Then again, Morgan can just stand there and by his presence alone crack me up. Morgan made me laugh quite a few times in this movie, even though he’s been far funnier in other roles.

Jermaine Fowler gets lots of screen time as Lavelle, and most of the movie involves his character as he struggles to become prince. Fowler is very good, and Lavelle is a likable character, but like the rest of the movie, not all that humorous.

Leslie Jones does enjoy some fine funny moments as Lavelle’s mother Mary, and Shari Headley adds class to the story as Akeem’s wife and queen Lisa. Nomzamo Mbatha, Bella Murphy (Eddie Murphy’s real life daughter), and Akiley Love all do well as Akeem’s daughters.

Kiki Layne delivers one of the best performances in the film as Meeka, the woman who is tasked with helping Lavelle learn how to become a prince, and of course the two characters fall in love.

Screen veterans James Earl Jones and John Amos also each have their moments. You can’t go wrong with the cast in this one. Heck, even Morgan Freeman shows up!

COMING 2 AMERICA was directed by Craig Brewer, who also directed DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, which is a far superior film to this one. Not that it matters much, since this is a comedy, but the CGI effects here aren’t very good, both on the African animals which clearly look fake, and on scenes where Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall are made to look younger.

Kenya Barris, Barry W. Blaustein, and David Sheffield wrote the screenplay, and all I can say is if I wanted to make a funny comedy, I wouldn’t be hiring these guys. Not based on this screenplay, anyway.

COMING 2 AMERICA is an amiable comedy sequel that simply isn’t funny enough to justify a glowing recommendation, even with the likes of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in the cast. At the end of the day, it’s just all rather subpar.

Which, unfortunately, is just….

…2 bad.

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DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019) – Comedic Bio-Pic Features Eddie Murphy At His Best

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dolemite is my name

Conventional wisdom is that Eddie Murphy deserved an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Rudy Ray Moore in the Netflix film DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019).

After finally catching up with this one, I heartily agree. ┬áThis is Murphy’s best work in years. That being said, while I agree that Murphy could easily have been nominated, I’m still glad Joaquin Phoenix won the award for his lead role in JOKER (2019), as for me, his was the best performance of the year.

But back to DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, a movie I liked a lot. It’s a bio pic of Rudy Ray Moore, who after years of struggling to make his name in show business, changed his name and took on a new persona, Dolemite, leading to best-selling comedy albums and eventually a string of successful 1970s blaxploitation movies. As such, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is also quite funny, because Rudy was a funny guy, as were his antics.

When DOLEMITE IS MY NAME opens, Rudy (Eddie Murphy) is stuck working in a record store and can’t get his own records played on the radio to save his life. He feels increasingly frustrated that he has worked his butt off with nothing to show for it. But when he hears a street person telling a series of jokes in a sing-song fashion, he realizes that this man and others like him are a treasure trove for material. So Rudy visits them on the streets and writes down their stories and their jokes, and he turns their source material into his own original act, creating a new character in the process, the charismatic Dolemite.

He’s an instant sensation at his local stand-up comedy venue, and then things just take off from there, leading to comedic record deals, and eventually movies.

Eddie Murphy is right at home playing Rudy Ray Moore and his alter ego Dolemite. Murphy is a natural at capturing Rudy’s raunchy comedic style since it fits right into Murphy’s own style of comedy back in his heyday. Better yet, Murphy nails the dramatic elements here as well. Early on, he does a great job showing Rudy’s frustrations with life, that he just can’t seem to catch a break, and he isn’t getting any younger. Likewise, after he has achieved success and has become a “star,” Murphy portrays Rudy as a man who never forgot his roots. He doesn’t become a jerk, and he treats his fans well. Murphy’s Rudy is a guy to be admired.

Wesley Snipes and Chris Rock are also in the cast and their presence is felt. This is actually the first time that Murphy and Snipes have ever made a movie together. They share some fun moments, as Snipes plays D’Urville Martin, who directed Dolemite’s first movie, and the two don’t always see eye to eye, which makes for some entertaining sequences.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph gives one of the best performances in the movie as Lady Reed, a performer who Rudy “discovers.” Their scenes together are some of the best in the film. Randolph enjoys lots of comedic moments and some dramatic ones, like when she thanks Rudy for giving her a chance, grateful that he overlooked her large size and didn’t let that stop him from promoting her.

Kodi Smit-McPhee is the film student Rudy hires to be his director of photography. Smit-McPhee has been in a bunch of movies in his young career, and my favorite remains his portrayal of the boy Owen in the exceptional vampire movie LET ME IN (2010) starring Chloe Grace-Moretz and directed by Matt Reeves. Sure, it’s a remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), which many people prefer, but I like LET ME IN a lot. Smit-McPhee is excellent in it, and plus it’s a Hammer Film!

Director Craig Brewer really gives this one a 1970s look and feel and successfully recaptures the essence of Rudy’s original Dolemite movies. Things slow down a bit during the film’s second half, but other than this, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is an enjoyable piece of filmmaking, as long as you don’t mind lots of vulgar language.

The screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski is ripe with coarse language, and there’s plenty of nudity as well, all capturing the 1970s blaxploitation feel. It also tells a noteworthy story and portrays Rudy Ray Moore as decent guy whose years of hard work eventually pay off. The movie is also hilariously funny.

I liked DOLEMITE IS MY NAME a lot. It tells a worthwhile story, features one of Eddie Murphy’s best performances in years, and in addition to being an informative biography of Rudy Ray Moore is exceedingly funny as well.

If you’re indoors social distancing looking for a movie to watch, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is a worthy addition to your movie queue.

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