Critics Need to be as Diverse as the Audience

Posted on June 23, 2018 at 2:20 pm

Becca Harrison writes in Prospect about “From Ocean’s 8 to #MeToo: why the gender bias in film criticism matters:”

This week, Hollywood stars and reviewers alike have waded into debates about the gender of film critics.

In a promotional interview for Ocean’s 8, its stars—Mindy Kaling, Cate Blanchett, and Sandra Bullock—suggested that they’d like more women to review their film.

Bullock talked about the need to “balance out the pool of critics” so that it “reflects the world we’re in,” while Kaling said that “often I think there is a critic who will damn it in a way because they don’t understand it, because they come at it at a different point of view.”

Responding to the cast’s view that men might be more dismissive of their film than women, Buzzfeed critic Alison Willmore tweeted that this was “the same argument an angry teen boy uses when telling me why I shouldn’t get to weigh in on Suicide Squad.”

“It’s also an argument whose end point is that there should never be bad reviews, because that just means the critic wasn’t the right audience.”

But Willmore’s argument misses the point. The issue of individual films aside, there is a pressing need for publishers and editors to diversify criticism—and to trust that women and people of colour can write critically about films, even when they are “the right audience.”

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Posted on June 21, 2018 at 3:30 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense sci-fi/action peril and violence with many characters injured, eaten, gored, and killed, volcano,
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 22, 2018

Copyright 2018 Universal Pictures
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a mildly entertaining but utterly unnecessary fifth in the series inspired by doctor-turned blockbuster author Michael Crichton’s books. But if you’re going to keep making movies about reconstituted dinosaurs, it’s time to get them off that island. Yes, I remember they made it to San Diego in #2, but by now we feel we know every leaf and tree on the island that was once the theme park created by twinkly-eyed, mega-rich John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) with the help of scientist of questionable ethics Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), where so, so many things have gone wrong, as Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) way back in the OG “Jurassic Park” back in 1993. He predicted that the results would be unpredictable, and not in our favor: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Dr. Malcolm is back again as this film begins, and he’s still not on board with dinosaurs existing at the same time as humans. He’s testifying at a Congressional hearing because the island has a retconned volcano eruption and if the world does not save them, all of the dinos will be wiped out. “Let it happen,” says Dr. Malcolm. That’s nature, and it will prevent them from wiping us out. But of course there are those who consider the dinos, however created, an endangered species now, and are trying to raise money to save them. This includes former all-business, now all-love-for dinos Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard, thankfully out of the stilettos and able to run in flats), paleovetrenarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), and, of course, this movie’s house computer whiz and full-time scardy-cat, hacker Franklin Webb (Justice Smith of “Paper Towns”).

Just when it seems all is lost, Claire gets the dream offer from retconned former Hammond partner and ailing ultra-rich guy Benjamin Lockwood, who lives with his young granddaughter Maisie (excellent screamer Isabella Sermon). If she can persuade former love interest Owen (Chris Pratt) to help her extract samples of different species, Noah-style, he will put them in an isolated compound where they will never bother anyone or be bothered by anyone ever again.

Yeah, you know what Dr. Malcolm would say about that. He’d also say, “Never trust a rich guy, or, maybe, trust a rich guy but never trust his henchmen who want very, very, very much to be rich guys, especially after Dr. Wu shows up again, plus Buffalo Bill from ‘Silence of the Lambs.'” About that, though. Rafe Spall and Toby Jones use their best American accents for the evil want-to-be-rich roles but they are pretty bad at business. They accepted how much per dino?

So, basically, this is a movie of dinosaurs on the island running away from a volcano while humans run away from the dinosaurs (Remember — you don’t have to be faster than the dinosaurs. You just have to be faster than some other humans.), followed by humans running away from dinosaurs and evil humans at Lockwoods cool, creepy, Victorian mansion, followed by, oh yes, a big fat cliffhanger. Get ready for #6, “Jurassic World: Electric Blue-galoo.”

Here’s what’s good. Director J.A. Bayona knows how to tell a story with a camera, and the film is well-paced and stylishly told. The original had Spielbergian magic in the story-telling as well as the special effects, though. This one is several orders of magnitude down the evolutionary scale, so to speak, on both counts.

Parents should know that this film has constant sci-fi action and peril, scary animal attacks, volcano, characters injured and killed, including being gored and being eaten, murder, sad death, and guns.

Family discussion: Who was right about rescuing the dinosaurs? Do you agree that we keep creating technology we are not capable of controlling?

If you like this, try: the other Jurassic Park/World movies and the book by Mich

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Free for Father’s Day Weekend: My Ebook on the Best Movie Fathers

Posted on June 15, 2018 at 8:00 am

In honor of Father’s Day, my eBook, 50 Must-See Movies: Fathers is FREE through Father’s Day, this weekend, June 15-18, 2018.

50 must-see fathers smallWhat do “Wall Street” and the “Star Wars” saga and, seemingly, about half the movies ever made have in common? They are about fathers. In “Wall Street,” Charlie Sheen plays the ambitious Bud, who respects the integrity of his blue-collar father, played by his real-life father, Martin Sheen. But Bud is dazzled by the money and power and energy of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). The movie will up the ante with Bud’s father’s heart attack as we see him struggle between the examples and guidance of these two male role models.

In “Star Wars,” Luke (Mark Hamill) does not know until halfway through the original trilogy that (spoiler alert) the evil Darth Vader is his father. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, who are killed very early in the first film, but the father figures who are most meaningful in his life are the Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Like Bud in “Wall Street,” Luke must choose between the good and bad father figures. Like Luke, Harry Potter is raised by an aunt and uncle, but he finds a true father figure later. For Harry, it is headmaster Albus Dumbledore. In opposition is He Who Must Not Be Named. Like Luke, Harry has the opportunity for great power on the dark side, but he lives up to the example set for him by Dumbledore.

The first stories ever recorded are about fathers. The central human struggle to reconcile the need for a father’s approval and the need to out-do him is reflected in the “hero of a thousand faces” myths that occur in every culture. In Greek mythology, Zeus is the son of a god who swallowed his children to prevent them from besting him. Zeus, hidden by his mother, grows up to defeat his father and become the king of the gods. Ancient Greece also produced the story of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, and The Odyssey, whose narrator tells us “it is a wise man who knows his own father.”

These themes continue to be reflected in contemporary storytelling, including films that explore every aspect of the relationship between fathers and their children. There are kind, understanding fathers whose guidance and example is foundation for the way their children see the world. There are cruel, withholding fathers who leave scars and pain that their children spend the rest of their lives trying to heal. There are movies that reflect the off-screen real-life father-child relationships. Martin Sheen not only played his son’s father in “Wall Street;” he played the father of his other son, Emilio Estevez, in “The Way,” which was written and directed by Estevez, and which is about a father’s loss of his son. Will Smith has appeared with his son Jaden in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “After Earth.” John Mills appeared with his daughter Hayley in “Tiger Bay,” “The Truth About Spring,” and “The Chalk Garden.” Ryan and Tatum O’Neill memorably appeared together in “Paper Moon.” Jane Fonda produced and starred in “On Golden Pond” and cast her father Henry as the estranged father of her character. Jon Voight played the father of his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie in “Tomb Raider.” And Mario Van Peebles, whose father cast him as the younger version of the character he played in “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” made a movie about the making of that film when he grew up. It is called “Badasssss!” In the role of Melvin Van Peebles he cast himself.

Director John Huston deserves some sort of “Father’s Day” award. He directed both his father and his daughter in Oscar-winning performances, Walter Huston in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and Anjelica Huston in “Prizzi’s Honor.”

Some actors known for very non-paternal roles have delivered very touching performances as fathers. Edward G. Robinson is best remembered for playing tough guys, but in “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” he gave a beautiful performance as a farmer who loves his daughter (Margaret O’Brien) deeply. Cary Grant, known for sophisticated romance, played loving – if often frustrated — fathers in “Houseboat” and “Room for One More.” “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” star Michael Keaton was also “Mr. Mom.” Comedian Albert Brooks is a devoted father in “Finding Nemo.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2V74rUwMYHE

There are memorable movie fathers in comedies (“Austin Powers,” “A Christmas Story”) and dramas (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Boyz N the Hood”), in classics (“Gone With the Wind”), documentaries (“Chimpanzee,” “The Other F Word”), and animation (“The Lion King,” “The Incredibles”). There are great fathers (“Andy Hardy”) and terrible fathers (“The Shining”). There are fathers who take care of us (“John Q”) and fathers we have to take care of (“I Never Sang for My Father”). All of them are ways to try to understand, to reconcile, and to pay tribute to the men who, for better or worse, set our first example of how to decide who we are and what we will mean in the world.

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Incredibles 2

Posted on June 14, 2018 at 5:49 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action/superhero peril and violence, gun, sad (offscreen) murder of parent
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2018
Copyright Disney Pixar 2018

Brad Bird knows that all families are pretty incredible, and his movies about the family of superheroes reminds us that we know it, too. The writer/director of “The Incredibles” and this sequel, “Incredibles 2” (there’s a lot going on, so this title is streamlined and has no room for an extraneous “the”) took 14 years and it was worth the wait. We are glad to be back in the world of the super-family, though for many of us, our favorite character is still super-suit designer Edna Mode (voiced by Bird himself). Edna’s comment is really the theme of the film: “Parenting done right is really a heroic act.”

One of the best ideas in the original was giving each family member a heightened version of the real-life superpowers we see in all families. The dad is Bob, otherwise known as super-strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson). Mom is Helen, who is always stretched in a million different directions, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). The middle school daughter, Violet (Sarah Vowell) is invisible, because middle school is such a fraught time that many kids either think they are invisible or wish they were. And her younger brother is super-fast Dash (Huck Milner). There’s also a baby named Jack-Jack, who in the last film had not developed any superpowers yet, but in this sequel makes up for lost time with at least 17 of them.

We begin right where the first film left off. Even though they just saved the day, superheroes are still outlawed by a government that considers them too much of a risk. Violet has finally been noticed by the boy she likes. And a new super-villain, The Underminer, has attacked the town.

The Incredibles save the day, but it does not change the law. “Politicians don’t understand people who do good only because they think it right.” Even the secret government program to keep the superheroes saving the day is shut down.  The Incredible family has no place to go…until a pair of siblings who head up a huge corporation make them an offer.  They think they can persuade the government to change the law, but first Elastigirl — and only Elastigirl — will have to come with them.

The movie’s funniest moments come when Bob is left behind with the kids.  He may be able to lift a locomotive, but new math is an entirely different problem.  And Jack Jack’s new powers start popping out like jumping beans.  The concept of baby-proofing a house takes on a whole new meaning when it isn’t the baby you’re trying to protect. It’s the house that needs protection when a baby has laser beam eyes, invisibility, and a mode that can only be described as fire-breathing gorgon.  He may not be able to walk or talk yet, but a raccoon who won’t leave the yard will be very sorry about making that mistake.

Meanwhile, Elastigirl is happy to be using her powers again, but she misses her family, even when she gets a call about Dash’s missing shoes in the middle of a mission.  Of course a new villain is going to challenge the whole family, their old friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and a delightful new group of oddball superheroes. The action scenes are as thrillingly staged as all of the “Fast/Furious” films put together, the mid-century-inspired production design is sensationally sleek and space age, especially the house the Incredibles borrow. Some serious and timely issues are touched on lightly but meaningfully, including immigration, how to respond to laws you consider unfair, opting for “ease over quality” in consumer goods, and spending too much time on screens with not enough connection to people. The villain, once revealed, seems a bit patched together, however, as though there was some re-writing done over the 14-year gestation period that never got fully resolved. But there is plenty of comedy and lots of heart in a story that truly is incredible.  Please don’t make us wait until 14 years for the next one.

NOTE: Pixar continues its track record for making parents in the audience cry, this time even before the feature begins. The short cartoon before “Incredibles 2” is the story of a mom who just is not ready for her son to grow up and, I’m sorry, I must have something in my eye.

Parents should know that this movie includes an offscreen murder of a parent with a gun, extended action/superhero peril and violence, characters mesmerized and forced to obey, and brief mild language.

Family discussion:  Which is more important, selling or designing? When should you be a cynic and when should you be a believer?  What are your core beliefs?

If you like this, try: “The Incredibles,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Inside Out,” and “Sky High”

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Tag

Posted on June 14, 2018 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic peril and violence, medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

One of the most reliably funny situations in literature is adults taking on with utmost seriousness the kinds of concerns generally left to children. The bigger the gap between the actual and perceived stakes, the funnier it gets. One of my favorite P.G. Wodehouse stories, “The Purity of the Turf” is a classic example.

“Tag” is the story of adult men who have been playing the same game since their schoolyard days. The players may not be all-stars when it comes to tagging each other, but as comic actors they are at the top of the class, and every one of the actors is a standout. Despite a couple of missteps in the script, it is one of the most consistently and even endearingly funny films of the summer.

Children like the game of tag because the rules are simple enough to learn immediately but complicated enough to negotiate over (no tag backs!), because you can run around and triumph over each other. Normally, though, when children get older they prefer more structure and complexity and move on to amateur versions of popular games that you can see professionals play on television like tennis and golf. Not the “Tag Brothers,” though. As described in a 2013 Wall Street Journal front page story, a group of Catholic schoolboys spend a month each year trying to tag each other. They wear disguises and sneak into each other’s workplaces. They say that it keeps them young and literally keeps them in touch.

While this is a highly fictionalized — and very funny — version of the story, some of the wildest elements are true. One notorious tag occurred at the funeral of one member’s father. He became “it” as he stood at the side of his father’s grave. And, in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, he said his father would have loved it.

In a job interview, Hoagie (Ed Helms) explains that even though he is a veterinarian, he is applying for a job as a janitor because it is on his apparently quite literal bucket list. The job is at a large corporation, where Callahan, the CEO (Jon Hamm), is about to be interviewed by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal (Annabelle Wallis as Rebecca). Hoagie successfully not only tags Callahan but persuades him to leave the interview, the office, and pretty much any shred of adult responsibility to spend the month of May playing tag. There is a special reason for this year’s tag game. Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one of the group who has never been tagged. He’s essentially the tag ninja. He is getting married on the last day of the annual tag month, and the game may be over after that. Hoagie, Callahan, their stoner friend Chilli (Jake Johnson), and the high-strung Sable they interrupt in the middle of a therapy session (Hannibal Buress) join forces to get Jerry at last.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” the tag team likes to say, even though they are not always accurate about who said it. But it turns out that you can keep playing but you can’t put off getting old. The simplest game in the world, probably dating back to the Cro-Magnan era, cannot help developing an overlay of complexity as the players get older, both in tactics and stakes. That is part of what makes this movie so much silly fun. Seeing grown-ups strategize a game of tag — including formal legal amendments to the foundational agreement — gives this movie a joyful bounciness that becomes positively giddy.

The mayhem is deftly staged by director Jeff Tomsic and editor Josh Crockett, but the film never loses sight of how much the game means to the players and the people around them. Isla Fisher, as Hoagie’s wife, brings that “Wedding Crasher” intensity. She is as committed and competitive as the whole group of guys put together, and thank you to the filmmakers, including producer Will Ferrell, for not relegating the women in the cast to the “Now, honey, it’s time for you grow up” roles. Thomas Middleditch makes the most of his scene as a health club attendant with a braid and an attitude. Helms, Buress, and Johnson are all terrific, creating complete characters in the midst of the comic chaos, but it is a special pleasure to see Hamm and Renner, known for their dramatic roles, show off their comedy skills. With a team like this, I’d keep playing, too.

Parents should know that this film includes constant very strong and crude language, vulgar sexual references and situations, a bare behind, extended comic peril, mayhem, and violence, medical issues played for comedy including cancer and a miscarriage, alcohol, alcoholism, and marijuana.

Family discussion: What childhood game do you still enjoy? What keeps you connected to your old friends?

If you like this, try; “The Hangover” and “Cedar Rapids”

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