The Meg

Posted on August 9, 2018 at 5:51 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character drinks to deal with stress
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, characters injured and killed, characters sacrifice themselves to save others, some grisly and disturbing images, sad death of parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 10, 2018

This is what an international distribution deal come to life looks like on screen. Take an assortment of actors of various races representing the nationalities of the major movie markets, especially China. Come up with an instantly recognizable concept (a prehistoric shark 75 feet long that can chomp through a whale with one bite!), an instantly recognizable bad guy (arrogant, selfish billionaire, in case that isn’t redundant), an instantly recognizable action hero (yay, Jason Statham!). Let’s put an adorably precocious child in the group, and give her angel wings, for goodness’ sakes, to make sure we see how adorable she is.

Add tons of first-class stunt work and digital effects, and make sure the dialogue is disposable enough it won’t matter if it translates well. In fact, with lines like “Man vs. Meg isn’t a fight. It’s a slaughter” and some painfully awkward romantic banter, this movie would be better viewed with no dialogue at all.

Copyright Universal 2018

Jason Statham plays Jonas, an expert at deep sea rescue who in a prologue has to make a split-second terrible decision. He saves some people, but many others are killed, and he is blamed. He insists that it was the only choice, and that if he had tried to rescue the others, everyone would have been killed, but the official finding is that he was suffering from underwater-pressure induced diminished capacity that caused hallucinations and poor judgment. Five years later, he is living in Thailand and drinking to forget everything he has lost.

That is when he gets a visit from an old friend, Mac (Cliff Curtis). The giant shark they said was a hallucination is real. It is a megladon, previously thought to have been extinct for millions of years, but now discovered in an expedition funded by Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) a crass billionaire all faux bonhomie and limitless entitlement. The research operation has gone to Earth’s deepest spot to prove that what had been thought to be its bottom was a layer of gas, with a deeper part of the ocean underneath. The exploration ship, piloted by Lori (Jessica McNamee) has been trapped and no one else has the experience r expertise to rescue it.

“You’re going to offer me a job,” Jonas says, “and I’m going to say no. You’re going to offer me money, and I’m going to say no. You’re going to appeal to my better nature and I’m still going to say no.” But they bypass all of that to skip to the ultimate persuader: Lori is his ex-wife.

So, back on the job after a quick check-up with the team doctor. Fortunately, five years of drinking have not had any adverse affect whatsoever, as we will later confirm when we see Jonas in nothing but a towel. After that, it’s pretty much one action/rescue/escape scene after another, which is fine because the parts in between are not very good. A tragic death is played as romantic foreplay. And a racist stereotype is played as — the same racist stereotype? If there’s an effort to go meta, it fails.

Here’s the good news — the action scenes, stunts, and digital effects are really well done! Director Jon Turteltaub (“National Treasure”) stages them well, with a series of different settings and circumstances that actually feel now and then almost like a real story. Each one builds on the next with an additional layer of difficulty and a different balance of stakes. The audience did cheer when one character was eaten. and we never fear for a second that anything would happen to that child, but overall, there are enough characters and enough variations of threat and logistical complications to keep each one interesting.

It would be easy for this movie to slide into “Frankenfish vs. Dinocroc” SYFY territory, but Statham strikes the right tone and it is great to see Curtis, who always brings great humanity and authenticity to the story.

SPOILER ALERT: The cute dog does not die.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop peril, suspense, and violence, with characters injured and killed and some grisly and disturbing images. Characters sacrifice themselves to save others. The movie also includes some strong language and drinking to deal with stress and depression.

Family discussion: How do Toshi and Heller decide what they should do? Can we explore without disrupting the environment or putting people at risk?

If you like this, try: “Jaws”

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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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Adrift

Posted on May 31, 2018 at 3:36 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for injury images, peril, language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, brief drug use
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 1, 2018

Copyright 2018 STX Films
If I ever decide to pursue a PhD, I think I will go for a combined film/economics degree and study the correlation between the quality of a film and the star also being the producer. There will be plenty of data.

Shailene Woodley produces and stars in “Adrift,” based on the true story of a young couple sailing across the Pacific Ocean in the early 1980’s, who were caught in a deadly hurricane. There is obviously a lot of appeal for an actress in a story of the struggle to survive with the opportunity to show courage, resilience, and determination. But the back-and-forth flashbacks weaken the intensity of that struggle and a weak script with a Gothika Rule-worthy twist ending make even a story of survival more disappointing than inspiring.

Tami (Woodley) is a free spirit as we see when the immigration official in Tahiti asks her what her profession is and she replies, “Whatever job pays me enough to get me to the next place.” She has been traveling full-time since she graduated from high school five years earlier, most recently as chef on a schooner. She meets Richard (Sam Claflin), a British Naval Academy drop-out who worked in a boatyard so that he could build his own sailboat and has been on the water pretty much full-time ever since. Though he tells her that being at sea alone is mostly being “sunburnt, sleep-deprived, seasick, or all three at once. And after a few days, there’s the hallucinations.” But there is something both of them find irresistible in sailing into the horizon, and both have an unquenchable desire to see what the world has to offer. In one of the movie’s best scenes, she says a sunset at sea is red (as in “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight”), and he makes her see all the different shades and colors within the red. While she teases him about it later, she loves seeing the world through his eyes. And he loves her spirit of adventure.

When a wealthy friend offers Richard $10,000 and two first-class plane tickets to sail his yacht to San Diego, it seems like a perfect way for them to begin their life of adventure. But we know from the movie’s first shot that they are sailing into terrible trouble. We first see Tami submerged, and then we see her come to, disoriented, in the wrecked and waterlogged hull of the yacht, with Richard gone. Later we will see their tiny ship buffeted about by waves (the special effects are fine but nothing we didn’t see in “The Perfect Storm”) interspersed with scenes of their early romance and scenes of the 41 days adrift, with no way to get help or let anyone know where they were.

I don’t want to spoil the movie’s twist here, but per the Gothika Rule will be happy to share it to anyone who writes to me at moviemom@moviemom.com. I’ll just saw that while I am sure it was a deeply spiritual and sustaining experience for Tami, it comes across poorly on screen, leaving the audience, yes, adrift.

Parents should know that this film includes intense mortal peril with severe and graphic injuries, some strong language, sexual references, nudity, brief drug use, alcohol, reference to suicide and teen pregnancy, and a sad death.

Family discussion: How many ways can you think of to describe red? Why was the frangipani so meaningful? Why did Tami say she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything? What problem-solving skills helped her the most?

If you like this, try: “Touching the Void” and “The Life of Pi”

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

Posted on May 22, 2018 at 2:32 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi style peril, action, and violence, chases, shootouts, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 24, 2018
Copyright 2018 Disney

The moment I became a “Star Wars” fan forever was in the cantina scene in what I will always refer to as the first “Star Wars” movie, now of course known as Episode IV, “A New Hope.” It was when Ben Kenobi tells Han (Harrison Ford, of course) he hopes to avoid any Imperial entanglements, and Han leans back and says, “Well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it?” with so much rakish charm that we have to instantly forgive him for bragging about making the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs. (We will always be too polite to mention that parsecs measure distance not time. Who knows, maybe a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, they told time in parsecs.)

So, would I like to see that Kessel run? And how Han met Chewy the wookiee? And how me met the dashing buccaneer, Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams in Episodes V and VI and here by master-of-all-arts Donald Glover? And the bet that won Han the brand-spanking-new Millennium Falcon? Written by “Empire Strikes Back” and “Force Awakens” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, with his son Jonathan (“Dawson’s Creek”)? With the divine Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) voicing a slightly loopy and more than slightly lippy droid? You bet I do!

Does it deliver? You bet your Han Solo hanging dice it does! Does Han shoot first? This time he does!

This prequel has the wonderfully charismatic Alden Ehrenreich (the “Would that t’were so simple” guy from “Hail, Ceasar!”) as Han, who lives with other orphans in a work camp led by Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Think Fagin, without the warmth. He has a plan to escape with the girl he loves, Qi’ra (“Game of Thrones” dragon-rider Emilia Clarke). Han is a bit of a rascal, but also an optimist back in these teenage years. “Wherever we go it can’t be worse than where we’ve been,” he says. But we know it can.

And as we know from films like “Casablanca” and “The Fifth Element,” whether it’s the letters of transit or the multipass, you have to have the right paperwork to get away. Han escapes (and in the film’s cheesiest moment, is assigned a last name based on his solitary status) but Qi’ra is captured. Han decided to enlist with the Imperial forces to get trained as a pilot so he can return to save her.

Three years later, Han has been thrown out of the academy and is now a grunt in the Imperial military. He meets a bandit named Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and his ragtag crew (is there any other kind?) of daredevils, and agrees to join forces with them on a heist so he can get a ship go back and rescue Qi’ra. This leads to a marvelously staged sci-fi version of a western train robbery.

It turns out that Beckett is not stealing on his own behalf, but working for someone else, someone who is not forgiving when things do not go well, harking back to the original cantina scene again, where we learn that Han had to jettison the cargo he was delivering to Jabba the Hutt. The big crime boss is Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany, with scars across his face as though a space tiger clawed his cheeks, scars that redden when he gets angry. Beckett and Han have to try again.

Along the way Han meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando. I am not going to spoil how; I’ll just say that both encounters are fitting and highly entertaining. Han does meet up with Qi’ra again, but is not ready to see how she has been affected by what she has had to do to survive. She joins the team and they take on another big heist. There’s a high-stakes card game, a trial by combat, and good advice that gets ignored. And the better you know the series, the more references and callbacks you will be delighted to discover. There are new insights about well-known characters and intriguing new ones, especially Waller-Bridge as a droid with a few crossed wires. In addition to the touches that center this in the “Star Wars” universe, there are references to classic movie genres, heist films and westerns and maybe “The Wages of Fear.” It may not be necessary, but it is most welcome, a thrilling and warm-hearted adventure in its own right that fits as satisfyingly into the “Star Wars” universe as that last piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

Parents should know that like all “Star Wars” movies, this one has non-stop peril and action with some disturbing images and many characters injured and killed. There is some mild language and some alcohol.

Family discussion: What do you think happened when Han was at the Academy? What is Han’s greatest skill?

If you like this, try: the other “Star Wars” films

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Deadpool 2

Posted on May 15, 2018 at 9:04 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very graphic peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 18, 2018
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2018

Wait. Don’t read any further. If you liked the first Deadpool, then go see the movie before you read or hear any spoilers and come back here afterward to hear what I thought and share your own reactions. Oh, no, one thing before you go. No popcorn, no Twizzlers, no giant sodas for this one. Between laughing so hard you gasp for air and just gasping at some of the crazy stunts, if you try to eat or drink something as you watch, you just might choke or spill it.

Remember the first “Deadpool?” That crazy sloooow-motion opening action scene to the tune of “Angel in the Morning” with Ryan Reynolds’ deadpan Deadpool voiceover introducing us to the fourth-wall-breaking, meta-meta, winking-at-us-and-itself while-delivering on the action and a tender romance as well Marvel movie about the special forces guy turned gun for hire turned cancer patient turned science experiment turned super(anti)hero? Well, he’s back, (temporarily) blown to bits, out for revenge, and out for something a bit unexpected as well. Yes, believe Wade/Deadpool when he tells you that this is a story about family. Also butterfly-effect-free time travel, a prison break, ironic use of a classic pop song, some snark on DC (and Wolverine, of course), one of the funniest scenes ever filmed about a bad guy trying to get information from the good guy’s buddy, a bad guy played by the same actor who played Thanos but this time less CGI, a new ballad from Celine Dion, a blink and you’ll miss it cameo by one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the guy from “Catastrophe,” the guy from “IT,” and some very persuasive evidence that the best superpower could just be….luck. And that last one would be Domino, perhaps the only superhero character whose name is not as cool as the name of the actor — Zazie Beetz, who needs her own movie, now.

Just in case you’re still with me and have not seen it yet, I’m doing my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, though I would love nothing more than telling you some of my favorite funny moments. Bad stuff happens and Wade/Deadpool seeks revenge. Then a sort of cyborg from the future with seemingly infinite very powerful weapons named Cable (Josh Brolin) shows up, Terminator-style, in search of a kid who has been abused in a “conversion” facility for mutants with special powers (Julian Dennison of “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”). Deadpool puts together a team he dubs the gender-neutral X-Force. (Speaking of dubbing, there’s a whole thing in the movie about dubstep, too.

The quips and pop culture references come at you “Airplane!”-style, faster than the bullets, meta on meta, times meta, meta about meta, breaking the fourth wall and probably the fifth, sixth, and seventh as well. “No more speaking lines for you,” DP tells one character. Instead of the director’s name in the opening credits, it just says “Killed John Wick’s dog.” (That’s David Leitch, and he did.) And yes, there is some sweetness, too, every bit as important in making this work as the wisecracking dialog and bone-cracking stunts. It does not take itself seriously, but it does take delivering a smart, funny, entertaining, and satisfying movie very seriously. With so many superhero franchises out there, it is great to see them developing sub-genres, and “Deadpool” has found the sweet spot in one of the most purely entertaining.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong, explicit, and crude language, sexual references and situations, graphic comic nudity, drinking, drugs, and extended action/superhero violence with many characters injured and killed and some disturbing images.

Family discussion: How do Wade and Cable respond differently to tragedy? What would you say to Russell? What’s the best joke in the movie?

If you like this, try: “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”

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