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Jennifer Garner-ing approval

Are you a “Yes” or a “No!” person?

Yes Day: Edgar Ramirez, Jennifer Garner and the gang make it impossible to say "no.”
Yes Day: Edgar Ramirez, Jennifer Garner and the gang make it impossible to say "no.”

With Yes Day, the team that brought you Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day once again proves that when it comes to entertaining families (and single guys in their sixties), director Miguel Arteta and producer/star Jennifer Garner can’t say no.

Are you a “Yes” or a “No!” person? For parents, “No!” is part of the job. To a child, earning a “Yes” frequently means pitting parent against parent — telling Dad that Mom gave her approval even after he issued a thumbs down. Parents too can play the game, as in Dad pretending to be the good guy by issuing a “Yes,” knowing full well that Mom will assert final veto power. Mr. Deacon (Nat Faxon), a guidance counselor who, thanks to budget cuts, doubles as gym teacher and football coach, is a distant cousin of credibly bumbling insurance salesman Tim Lippe in Arteta’s bountifully stocked comedy Cedar Rapids. Deacon, whose naiveté extends far beyond the playing field, introduces Allison and Carlos Torres (Garner and Edgar Ramírez) to the concept of a 24-hour period in which parents agree to every one of their children’s wishes. Rules do apply: Yes Days must be earned — helping around the house, improving grades, etc. — and children who request violent acts or ask for anything in the future (i.e. getting a dog) need not apply. But windows-down car washes are definitely doable. And what kid doesn’t dream of a giant ice cream concoction that’s free if they can devour it in less than 30 minutes? (Vomiting voids the win.) Dad is quick to catch on. After all, “The Future of Fun” is the slogan behind the technology company that issues his paycheck. But getting Mom on board may still take some doing, particularly after the youngest son uses the technology Dad affords to make a video that paints Mom in a somewhat psychotic light. Why bother with prefabricated Disney princesses when families can revel in watching Allison’s transition from fun-killer to coolest mom on the block?

I’ve come a long way in my appreciation of Jennifer Garner. It took some doing to wash the stench of Pearl Harbor, Daredevil, and Elektra out of my nostrils, but starting with Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, I began to detect an unmistakable flair for comedy, light and otherwise. But it was Butter — a film in which both the underground railroad and Schindler’s List are recast in yellow churned fat globules — that cemented my newfound love for her comedic daring. If her presence in trash like Peppermint or formulaic romcoms with the word “Day” in their titles help to finance films like Butter and Yes Day, then her recycling efforts were put to good use.

The film is a bit of a comedown from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, building on a series of “bigger is better” events rather than moments of personal discovery. And the supporting cast could have used more off-the-wall charmers like Deacon. But don’t let these minor gripes deter you. The three offspring are sufficiently precocious to engage Allison and Carlos, but not cloying enough to turn viewers off. It was also the first time in ages that I got off watching adults dressed (at their children’s behest) as superheroes And rather than the explosion-in-a-paint-factory approach generally found in most pre-teen fantasy films, Arteta’s color palette is thoughtfully applied. All this and you get to enjoy Deacon getting the Sonny Corleone treatment with water balloons. 2021. ★★★

Video on Demand New Release Roundup

Happily — Oh, the perils of conformity. Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) have been happily married for fourteen years. Disgustingly so: the PDA-afflicted twosome can’t keep their hands off each other. At a friend’s annual cocktail party, the couple arrives separately and winds up having sex in the bathroom. It’s getting on their friend’s nerves, so much so that Tom and Janet are disinvited from an upcoming couple’s retreat, their security deposits returned. Or is it an elaborate prank? A guy named Goodman (Stephen Root), dressed in his finest Men In Black threads and purporting to be a government agent, shows up at their front door to inform the couple their contentedness is based on a chemical imbalance, and that a quick shot from one of the two syringes he’s packing contains the cure for what ails their bliss. Unwilling to allow someone to shatter their happiness, Janet does just that by beating Goodman to death with a handy piece of household decor. With their invitation reinstated and a solid premise set in place, first-time writer-director Ben David Grabinski decorates his darkly humorous tree with one gravity-defying ornament too many, starting with a bit of forced surrealism in the form of Janet’s recurring dream involving nine red chairs. But stowing the needles under the bed as if they were giant sea pods was a brilliant touch. And there comes a point in every horror film where the characters suddenly awaken to what’s going on, generally only to restage the action on another part of the set. Not this band of self-serving reprobates! Watch for a mass exodus the moment they catch on. From this point forward, the film took a turn for the purse, hopping the formula train to breezy box office thrills. A film without direction is like couple’s therapy without a shrink, which is exactly where this one ends. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Land — A cautionary fable for those whose dream it is to escape the horrors of reality by ditching car and cell phone and swapping out big-city turmoil for a calming, less complicated existence in a remote Wyoming cabin. That’s precisely the direction Edee’s (Robin Wright, making her feature directorial debut) existential crisis takes after her husband and son fall victim to a random act of violence. Like the locomotive engineer who one day shows up to work expected to know how to pilot a plane, our self-exiled city dweller couldn’t have anticipated what she was in for. (It’s one thing to shit bare in the woods, and something wholly other to spy an angry bear through the outhouse slats.) It’s stunning to look at: there’s not a bad angle to be had from Edee’s mountaintop perch as cinematographer Bobby Bukowski comes through with one “face of God” shot after another. But I take umbrage with occasional drone shots that tend to suck the reality out of the moment by making the uneasy shift from Ansel Adamsish splendor to perspective-flattening panoramic realism. The absence of smoke billowing from her chimney one cold winter day gives hiking humanitarians Miguel (Demián Bichir) and Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge) cause to pay a wellness call. Had they not, Edee might have been left for dead. I know what you’re thinking: Miguel’s frequent return trips will result in unnecessary romance. Blessedly, that’s not the case. Nor is this a case of “damsel in distress seeks male salvation.” Were that the point, she’d have never left home in the first place. He teaches her how to hunt and trap, and before long, her survival instincts lose their training wheels. Edee comes to care for Miguel, and what she learns from their friendship is the only force strong enough to get her off the mountain. At least temporarily. Wright knows the wrong choices that would have diluted the drama with sentiment, and she avoids every one of them. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

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"I’m not going to try to drop in on someone"
Yes Day: Edgar Ramirez, Jennifer Garner and the gang make it impossible to say "no.”
Yes Day: Edgar Ramirez, Jennifer Garner and the gang make it impossible to say "no.”

With Yes Day, the team that brought you Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day once again proves that when it comes to entertaining families (and single guys in their sixties), director Miguel Arteta and producer/star Jennifer Garner can’t say no.

Are you a “Yes” or a “No!” person? For parents, “No!” is part of the job. To a child, earning a “Yes” frequently means pitting parent against parent — telling Dad that Mom gave her approval even after he issued a thumbs down. Parents too can play the game, as in Dad pretending to be the good guy by issuing a “Yes,” knowing full well that Mom will assert final veto power. Mr. Deacon (Nat Faxon), a guidance counselor who, thanks to budget cuts, doubles as gym teacher and football coach, is a distant cousin of credibly bumbling insurance salesman Tim Lippe in Arteta’s bountifully stocked comedy Cedar Rapids. Deacon, whose naiveté extends far beyond the playing field, introduces Allison and Carlos Torres (Garner and Edgar Ramírez) to the concept of a 24-hour period in which parents agree to every one of their children’s wishes. Rules do apply: Yes Days must be earned — helping around the house, improving grades, etc. — and children who request violent acts or ask for anything in the future (i.e. getting a dog) need not apply. But windows-down car washes are definitely doable. And what kid doesn’t dream of a giant ice cream concoction that’s free if they can devour it in less than 30 minutes? (Vomiting voids the win.) Dad is quick to catch on. After all, “The Future of Fun” is the slogan behind the technology company that issues his paycheck. But getting Mom on board may still take some doing, particularly after the youngest son uses the technology Dad affords to make a video that paints Mom in a somewhat psychotic light. Why bother with prefabricated Disney princesses when families can revel in watching Allison’s transition from fun-killer to coolest mom on the block?

I’ve come a long way in my appreciation of Jennifer Garner. It took some doing to wash the stench of Pearl Harbor, Daredevil, and Elektra out of my nostrils, but starting with Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, I began to detect an unmistakable flair for comedy, light and otherwise. But it was Butter — a film in which both the underground railroad and Schindler’s List are recast in yellow churned fat globules — that cemented my newfound love for her comedic daring. If her presence in trash like Peppermint or formulaic romcoms with the word “Day” in their titles help to finance films like Butter and Yes Day, then her recycling efforts were put to good use.

The film is a bit of a comedown from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, building on a series of “bigger is better” events rather than moments of personal discovery. And the supporting cast could have used more off-the-wall charmers like Deacon. But don’t let these minor gripes deter you. The three offspring are sufficiently precocious to engage Allison and Carlos, but not cloying enough to turn viewers off. It was also the first time in ages that I got off watching adults dressed (at their children’s behest) as superheroes And rather than the explosion-in-a-paint-factory approach generally found in most pre-teen fantasy films, Arteta’s color palette is thoughtfully applied. All this and you get to enjoy Deacon getting the Sonny Corleone treatment with water balloons. 2021. ★★★

Video on Demand New Release Roundup

Happily — Oh, the perils of conformity. Tom (Joel McHale) and Janet (Kerry Bishé) have been happily married for fourteen years. Disgustingly so: the PDA-afflicted twosome can’t keep their hands off each other. At a friend’s annual cocktail party, the couple arrives separately and winds up having sex in the bathroom. It’s getting on their friend’s nerves, so much so that Tom and Janet are disinvited from an upcoming couple’s retreat, their security deposits returned. Or is it an elaborate prank? A guy named Goodman (Stephen Root), dressed in his finest Men In Black threads and purporting to be a government agent, shows up at their front door to inform the couple their contentedness is based on a chemical imbalance, and that a quick shot from one of the two syringes he’s packing contains the cure for what ails their bliss. Unwilling to allow someone to shatter their happiness, Janet does just that by beating Goodman to death with a handy piece of household decor. With their invitation reinstated and a solid premise set in place, first-time writer-director Ben David Grabinski decorates his darkly humorous tree with one gravity-defying ornament too many, starting with a bit of forced surrealism in the form of Janet’s recurring dream involving nine red chairs. But stowing the needles under the bed as if they were giant sea pods was a brilliant touch. And there comes a point in every horror film where the characters suddenly awaken to what’s going on, generally only to restage the action on another part of the set. Not this band of self-serving reprobates! Watch for a mass exodus the moment they catch on. From this point forward, the film took a turn for the purse, hopping the formula train to breezy box office thrills. A film without direction is like couple’s therapy without a shrink, which is exactly where this one ends. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Land — A cautionary fable for those whose dream it is to escape the horrors of reality by ditching car and cell phone and swapping out big-city turmoil for a calming, less complicated existence in a remote Wyoming cabin. That’s precisely the direction Edee’s (Robin Wright, making her feature directorial debut) existential crisis takes after her husband and son fall victim to a random act of violence. Like the locomotive engineer who one day shows up to work expected to know how to pilot a plane, our self-exiled city dweller couldn’t have anticipated what she was in for. (It’s one thing to shit bare in the woods, and something wholly other to spy an angry bear through the outhouse slats.) It’s stunning to look at: there’s not a bad angle to be had from Edee’s mountaintop perch as cinematographer Bobby Bukowski comes through with one “face of God” shot after another. But I take umbrage with occasional drone shots that tend to suck the reality out of the moment by making the uneasy shift from Ansel Adamsish splendor to perspective-flattening panoramic realism. The absence of smoke billowing from her chimney one cold winter day gives hiking humanitarians Miguel (Demián Bichir) and Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge) cause to pay a wellness call. Had they not, Edee might have been left for dead. I know what you’re thinking: Miguel’s frequent return trips will result in unnecessary romance. Blessedly, that’s not the case. Nor is this a case of “damsel in distress seeks male salvation.” Were that the point, she’d have never left home in the first place. He teaches her how to hunt and trap, and before long, her survival instincts lose their training wheels. Edee comes to care for Miguel, and what she learns from their friendship is the only force strong enough to get her off the mountain. At least temporarily. Wright knows the wrong choices that would have diluted the drama with sentiment, and she avoids every one of them. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

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