Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Posted on July 19, 2018 at 5:40 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 20, 2018

Copyright 2018 Universal
Pretty music, pretty scenery, pretty people – here they go again, my my, and how can we resist them? Lesser songs, better singers, higher platform shoes, more romance, a horse, a goat, a boat, a romantic last-minute wedding interruption, returning cast members and a whole new group to play younger versions of the older characters.

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” finds the young woman with three fathers (Amanda Seyfried as Sophie) about to realize her mother’s dream of a luxury hotel on the idyllic island of Kalokairi (the Greek island of Skopelos in the original, in this one the Croatian island of Vis, which gave the production tax breaks).

It is bittersweet because her mother (Meryl Streep as Donna) has died. She and her step- and one of three possible biological fathers (Pierce Brosnan), conveniently an architect, miss her dearly. “It will get better,” she reassures him. “Yes, just not quite yet,” he answers. Working on the grand opening party makes her feel closer to her mother. But she also misses Sky (Dominic Cooper), who is getting training in hotel management and has been offered a dream job half a world away. She also wishes her other two fathers could be there for the opening, straight-laced British lawyer Harry (Colin Firth), who is negotiating a big merger in Japan, and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård), who is getting an award for being Sweden’s greatest person because this movie does not really care enough about minor details to Google an actual award or invent a plausible one. And why should it? This is a movie that asks us to believe Cher is Meryl Streep’s mother. And that someone could have a daughter in 1980 who would still be in her early 20’s.

While Sophie is planning “the most incredible party of all time,” the primary focus of the film is on filling in the dot, dot, dots of Donna’s origin story, from her college graduation in 1979 (the math does not really add up here, either), her friendship (and performances) with Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn as the deliciously acerbic younger version of the character played by Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Alexa Davies as the younger version of the tender-hearted character played by Julie Walter), and her encounters with Bill, Harry, and Sam (younger versions played by Josh Dylan, Hugh Skinner, and Jeremy Irvine).

Lily James (“Baby Driver,” “Cinderella”) plays the young Donna, wearing gold platform boots under her graduation gown as she strides to the podium to give the graduation speech, then tosses off the gown to reveal a wild mash-up of a costume that could only be found in an ABBA performance or perhaps on display at the Bad Taste Museum in the Hall of What Were They Thinking. Her friends join her on stage for a jubilant performance of “I Kissed a Teacher,” and then bid her farewell as she embarks on her adventure. In France, she meets a shy Englishman. It is Harry. In one of the movie’s highlights, they sing and dance to a rousing “Waterloo” in a restaurant. She next meets Bill, who gives her a ride on his boat

And then she meets Sam, who wins her heart and then breaks it. By then she is pregnant, and by then she knows that this island is where she wants to make her home.

There is more skill in the crystalline harmonies, rock star poses, screen saver vistas, and segues between time and space than in the storyline, which is both too sad and too silly. Pierce Brosnan still can’t sing. The script often sounds like it was badly translated from the original Swedish. But it’s a cool treat on a hot summer evening, and let’s face it — you couldn’t escape if you wanted to.

NOTE: Wynn is the latest in five generations of one of the most luminary of show business families, including actors Ed Wynn (“Mary Poppins”) and Kennan Wynn (“Dr. Strangelove”) and writer Tracy Kennan Wynn (“The Longest Yard”). And of course, be sure to stay through the end credits for a final musical number!

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and non-explicit situations, questions of paternity, some sexual humor, childbirth scene, some mild language, and some alcohol.

Family discussion: How do you bolster your friends and family? What makes your soul shine? How do you make a complicated problem simple?

If you like this, try: the first “Mamma Mia” and “Walking on Sunshine” and read Susan Wloszczyna’s interview with Judy Craymer, who came up with the idea of turning ABBA’s songs into a play.

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Blindspotting

Posted on July 19, 2018 at 5:31 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some brutal violence, sexual references and drug use
Profanity: Very strong, crude, and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including policeman shooting an unarmed man
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 20, 2018

Copyright 2018 Foley Walkers Studio
Copyright 2018 Lionsgate
More than ten years ago, longtime best friends Daveed Diggs (“black-ish,” “Wonder,” Tony-winner for “Hamilton”) and spoken word poet/academic Rafael Casal began working on “Blindspotting,” inspired by their experience growing up in the uneasily gentrifying Oakland, California area long before either became successful. It took about ten years before they got the financing, and when it premiered at Sundance it was immediately acclaimed as a remarkably assured first film with exceptional performances a gripping story, and a nuanced, sometimes poetic portrayal of issues of race, class, and friendship.

Collin (Diggs), who is black, has just three more days of his year-long probation, following a two-year sentence. As long as he meets every checkpoint and follows every rule for just three more days, he will be able to leave the closely supervised halfway house and regain his freedom.

This is a challenge. His best friend Miles (Casal), who is white, is completely loyal to Collin but also impulsive and naturally resistant to any kind of rules. Collin finds himself with Miles and another friend who are smoking weed and playing around with guns. If he is discovered, it would mean an immediate return to prison. And then it gets worse. Collin, already running late getting back to the halfway house, knowing that missing curfew is a probation violation, stops at a red light and sees something he shouldn’t — a white cop killing an unarmed black man. The cop spots him and tells him to go. Terrified of getting shot or going back to prison, he does.

Collin and Miles work as movers, which gives us a chance to see the gentrification of Oakland, from the ten dollar “green juice” drinks suddenly appearing in local stores to the artist (Wayne Knight) who shows them his pictures of the trees that once gave the city its name but have now been cut down for development. A character wears a t-shirt that says, “Kill a hippie; save your hood.” The feeling of displacement is personal as well. Collin’s mother has remarried and her new stepson has moved into his old bedroom.

In some respects, the community is generously diverse. Colin’s black mother is now married to an Asian man. Miles is devoted to his partner, who is black, and their son. But racial divides persist, and this film navigates them and addresses them with a deep understanding of the history and complexity. When the friends finally get into a fight that could divide them forever, it is in large part because even the closest of friendships, even those who feel like family cannot truly understand what it is like to be black unless they are black.

At one point, a character asks Miles and Collin to stand quietly and look deeply into each other’s eyes. As much as these two men share, it is rare for them to look at each other. When they speak, they are often both staring ahead. This movie, conceived a decade ago but somehow coming out at exactly the right time, asks us to look deeply at both of them, and thus at ourselves.

Parents should know that this movie includes peril and violence, very strong, crude, and racist language, drinking and drunkenness, drugs, and family conflict.

Family discussion: What are the pros and cons of gentrification? What should Collin have done when he saw the officer shoot an unarmed man?

If you like this, try: “Do the Right Thing” and “Sorry to Bother You”

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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Posted on July 12, 2018 at 5:40 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic, cartoon-style peril and violence, weapons, fire, attempted murder
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 13, 2018

Copyright 2018 Sony Pictures Animation
“You have to be carefully taught,” according to the Rodgers and Hammerstein song in “South Pacific.” Lt. Cable and Nelly Forbush sing ruefully about the prejudices drummed into them as children: “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late/Before you are six or seven or eight/To hate all the people your relatives hate/You’ve got to be carefully taught.” That same sober theme is gently raised in the midst of the silliness and fun scares of this third in the animated “Hotel Transylvania” series about Drac, the doting-to-a-fault vampire dad voiced by Adam Sandler, his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), and her very mellow human husband, Johnny (Andy Samberg).

In just about every other respect, it’s pretty much the same movie as the first two, with slightly less clever monster jokes than the first one and a slightly more appealing storyline than the second one. Basically, Adam Sandler gets to do his two favorite things: speak in a “funny” accent voice and be lazy, preferably in an exotic location (IRS, check to see if he deducted a cruise as a business expense in developing this one).

Drac is still over-involved in his daughter’s life, worrying way too much when you consider that it is very difficult to harm a vampire. In case we were not clear on that, it is spelled out for us in the movie’s opening flashback, set in 1897, where vampire killer Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) is trying to destroy Drac. But he is no match for a vampire with nimbleness, courage, and imperviousness to any threat but garlic or a stake through the heart. The original story’s third weapon against vampires, a crucifix, is omitted in favor of cartoon secularism, as is the ickiness of subsisting on blood, the inconvenience of sleeping in sunlight, or the problem of marriage between someone with a human life span and someone who never ages. Any concerns about those issues are for Twihards.

These are cute and cuddly monsters, including the Invisible Man (David Spade), Frankenstein and his bride (Kevin James and Fran Drescher), Murray the Mummy (Keegan-Michael Key), and Mr. and Mrs. Wolfman (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), with their dozens of wolf-babies. There’s nothing at all scary about them and they seem to spend all of their time hanging out with each other, first at the resort that gives the series its title and then at Mavis’ surprise vacation — a cruise ship with all the amenities. As Drac points out, that means it’s just his hotel except on a boat. There’s one other big difference, though. He’s not in charge, which is both worrying and a little bit relaxing as well. “You need a vacation from managing everyone else’s vacation,” Mavis tells him. And this will be a chance for them to have some quality time together as a family.

Drac insists that the cruise, headed for the Bermuda Triangle and the lost continent of Atlantis “is not the Love Boat.” But he is beginning to think he might be interesting in finding romance (the vampire term is “zing” for love at first sight), many years since the death of Mavis’ mother. He even tries to find someone he’d like to swipe right on on the monster version of Tinder, called Zinger. And then, he takes a look at the beautiful — and human — ship’s captain, Erika (Kathryn Hahn), and ZING.

There’s some “monsters gotta be monsters” stuff — “We’re here, we’re hairy, and it’s our right to be scary!” Though of course they’re not scary after all and as in the other films it is the humans and their unwillingness to look beyond the tentacles and fur to see that just like us, monsters love their families and don’t want to hurt anyone. There’s a lot of silly stuff, a cute dance number, some appealing if uninspired pop song selections (Bruno Mars, the Beach Boys, the ubiquitous Mr. Blue Sky), plus the one song no one can resist dancing to (I won’t spoil it, but the audience groans suggested no one was surprised). It turns out music does have charms to sooth the savage beast after all. And this movie has enough charm to soothe little savages on summer vacation for 90 minutes or so.

Parents should know that this movie has some schoolyard language, potty humor, peril and violence (including attempted murder of monsters and a character who is badly injured and ultimately almost entirely prosthetic).

Family discussion: Why did Van Helsing hate monsters? Which monster would you like to be and why?

If you like this, try: the first two films, Monster House, “Igor

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Skyscraper

Posted on July 12, 2018 at 3:39 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language
Profanity: A few bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence with some disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, children in peril, fire, explosions, chases, automatic weapons, guns, knives, fights
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 13, 2018

Copyright Universal 2018
As generic as its title, “Skyscraper” has all the elements of a US/China production, unapologetically a lowest-common-denominator delivery system for stunts.

Dwayne Johnson, who at this writing has a movie premiering on cable (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), a movie just released on DVD/Blu-Ray (Rampage), and “Skyscraper” opening in theaters, has turned into something of an assembly line production facility for PG-13 action. This one is the weakest of the three, with strong visuals but a weak script. Johnson’s specialty, going back to his days as a professional wrestler, is his easy charm and sense of humor, but neither gets much display here as verbal, quippy comedy does not translate well. So we get a brisk five minutes of backstory, a brisk ten minutes of “aw, he loves his beautiful family, including the kid with asthma” to set the stakes, and then it’s one daunting shoot-out, escape both into and out of the burning building, someone hanging by one arm, someone hanging by one leg, and fight scene, after another, with several scenes of people watching the action on screens, including Byron Mann of “Altered Carbon” as the local police chief, and just one quip, even that one taken from a TV commercial. Oh, and there’s a hall of mirrors shoot-out to remind us that the original in The Lady from Shanghai, was so much better.

Following in the tradition of trapped in a building classics like Die Hard and Towering Inferno, “Skyscraper” has Will (Johnson), his Navy surgeon wife Sarah (Neve Campbell), and their twins visiting a new super-tall structure in Hong Kong called The Pearl because of the graceful but enormous tennis ball-shaped sphere on top.

Will, in the manner of “who could imagine a chef would be a special forces combat expert?” action movies, is a mild-mannered security expert who has been brought in for an independent review so that the building’s top half can be approved by the insurance company for residential occupation. Will is former military and law enforcement, but lost his leg in an explosion, and now, he tells the former colleague who recommended him for this job, he has not picked up a gun for ten years. “Laid it down and never picked it up.”

We know what that means. He’s about to pick up a gun. And we know when he tells the building’s owner that there’s just one more safety check to complete to declare it “Fort Knox in the sky,” that means that one last safety check is going to be a problem. After all, that’s why we’re here. Sarah and the kids are trapped by a fire in the building while Will (hmm, wonder what inspired that name) is away, so he has to break in to save them and then get them out. The bad guys who set the fire have their own plans. That’s basically it, and many of the best stunts are in the trailer.

Parents should know that this film has a few bad words and non-stop almost-R level peril and violence, some involving children, including fire, automatic weapons and guns, knives, and fistfights, many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Why was Will so nervous about the meeting? Why did Will and his friend have different reactions to their bad experience? What do you like to fix with duct tape? If your house was on fire, what would you save?

If you like this, try: “Rampage” and “Jumanji,” also starring Dwayne Johnson, and the action movie in a building classics “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno”

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