Aardvark

Posted on April 12, 2018 at 5:27 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic issues, language, some sexuality and violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking, references to psychotropic medication
Violence/ Scariness: Some violence, character injured, references to sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 13, 2018

Copyright 2018 Great Point Media
“Aardvark” has three thoughtful performances and a couple of intriguing interactions, but is ultimately undermined by an underwritten script. The parts are greater than the whole.

Zachary Quinto, who also produced, plays Josh, and we meet him on his first visit to a new therapist, which conveniently gives us a chance to learn very quickly that (1) he is underemployed in a coffee shop but sees it as progress so he must have been pretty badly off, (2) he has plenty of money, but keeps it crumpled up in his pocket so does not seem too on top of things, and (3) he has a brother who — he says — is a successful and very talented actor named Craig, and who is back in their home town for the first time in many years.

Josh is clearly fragile, but is he an unreliable narrator? Should we believe him? The new therapist, Emily (Jenny Slate) is not sure, and neither are well. Josh emphasizes that his brother is such a gifted actor that he can appear as anyone. In a couple of exceptional scenes, Josh speaks to an older homeless white woman and a black cop, who — are we seeing into his mind? — turn out to be Craig.

Is there a Craig? Is he anything like Josh’s description? We probably have concluded it is unlikely as perhaps Emily has, too, until he does, in fact, show up at Emily’s door, played by Jon Hamm. And this is where the movie starts to run out of ideas.

Slate gives an underwritten character as much depth as possible, and two intriguing encounters suggest that perhaps there were other versions of the story that provided more background (or should have). It is disappointing that writer/director Brian Shoaf could not come up with a less well-worn set of conflicts for her. Hamm continues to be one of today’s most thoughtful and adept performers. Especially in his early scenes, Hamm is able to show us the personality distortion of Craig’s years of semi-stardom (as the lead in a popular television series) and distance from his home and his brother. And Quinto is perceptive as he portrays Josh in different stages of his illness, with and without medication.

It is very good to see a movie about someone with mental illness who is not portrayed as cute or a savant, and especially good to see one that grapples with the survivor guilt and exhaustion of family members. Shoaf shows some promise as a writer and director and we look forward to what he comes next.

Parents should know that this movie’s themes include severe mental illness and psychotropic medications, references to sad loss of family members, some violence, strong language, sexual references and situation

Family discussion: Why didn’t Craig want to see Josh? What did Josh miss when he was taking his medication?

If you like this, try; “Entanglement,” “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

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Drama movie review Movies Movies

Gringo

Posted on March 8, 2018 at 12:39 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, violence and sexual content
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence with many graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, guns, car chases and crashes, torture, kidnapping
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 9, 2018

Copyright Amazon 2018
“Gringo” is the story of a hapless dupe named Harold (David Oyelowo, showing deft comic timing) who gets stuck in the middle of a lot of bad people and bad decisions.

Harold is an immigrant from Nigeria, married to Bonnie (Thandie Newton, criminally underused), and in financial trouble. “Are you saying I’m cash poor?” Harold asks his accountant. “No, I’m saying you’re poor poor, ,” he replies.

The accountant also tells Harold that his company may be merging, and he could lose his job. But Harold reassures himself that his boss Rich (Joel Edgerton) is an old friend, who has even hired Bonnie to decorate his apartment, and will not let him down. Rich reassures him as well, reminding him that he promised Harold’s life would look like a rap video if he stayed at the company. It’s obvious to us that Rich is a crook and a liar, but Harold has no clue.

Rich’s co-president of the company is Elaine (Charlize Theron, having a lot of fun as a ruthless executive whose self-pep talk includes “Who’s Daddy’s Blue Ribbon girl?”). They come along on Harold’s business trip to Mexico, where the company’s marijuana-based pills are manufactured. That merger means the end of lucrative off-the-books sales to a powerful drug dealer. And that leads to mayhem involving a fake kidnapping, a real kidnapping, a toe sent by international mail, a murder for failing to give the right answer to a question about which Beatles album is the best, a mercenary, and many betrayals.

Nash Edgerton (Joel’s brother) directs with high energy and clearly relishes very dark humor of the story, with many twists and turns as the various bad guys collide with each other. Paris Jackson (Michael’s daughter) has an impressive cameo as a girl enticing a hapless guitar salesman into helping her steal some of those marijuana pills. If you like your crime stories to be nicely nasty, this one does the trick.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive and graphic violence, chases, shootouts, torture, disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, drugs and drug dealing, alcohol, very explicit sexual references and situations, and very strong and crude language.

Family discussion: Was Harold’s father wrong? Why was it hard for him to see what was happening? What is the point of the banana/carrot story?

If you like this, try: “Big Trouble” and “Midnight Run” and, also from the Edgerton brothers, “The Square” (not the recent Cannes award-winner, the Australian crime drama)

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Comedy Crime Drama movie review Movies Movies

The Party

Posted on February 15, 2018 at 11:50 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and drug use
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Satiric violence including punches, gun
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 16, 2018

Copyright 2018 Rhodeside Attractions
“The Party” is a short, savagely funny, black and white film from writer/director Sally Potter with an all-star cast moving at light speed through a real-time gathering that goes very quickly from a celebration to a political and emotional bloodbath.

It does start out as a party. Hostess and honoree Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just achieved her professional goal by being appointed to the British cabinet position overseeing health care. She is busy in the kitchen making vol au vent, barely aware of her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), who is sitting dolefully in the living room, playing jazz on old-school analog LPs.

The guests start to arrive. Janet’s oldest friend April (Patricia Clarkson) is a sharp-tongued cynic, escorted by Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), a German believer in spiritual healing who calls Western medicine “voodoo.” April continuously demeans him, explaining that they are about to break up. Martha (Cherry Jones) is Janet’s political ally, but she will soon be distracted by news from her pregnant wife Jinny (Emily Mortimer). Everyone is so distracted that they barely notice Tom (Cillian Murphy), who works in finance and arrives ahead of his wife Marianne and immediately goes to the bathroom to snort some cocaine. Also, he has a gun.

As the vol au vent burns, a daisy chain of accusation, recrimination, confession, and betrayal rocks the group and challenges their most fundamental notions of who they are as individuals, as upholders of particular political views that they consider essential parts of themselves, and as people who thought they understood their connections to each other.

It’s in stunning black and white, but we imagine the shower of virtual crimson blood from the verbal rapier thrusts and real-life punches at this most savage of celebrations. What is intended to be a small gathering of close friends to congratulate the hostess on her important new cabinet position unfolds in real time as series of attacks, revelations, betrayals, and, yes, political metaphors. Brilliantly performed by some of the greatest actors from both sides of the Atlantic with dialog that crackles like static electricity, it is directed at the high speed of a drawing room comedy but with knowing, devastating impact by Potter.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong and explicit language and many tense and unhappy confrontations. Characters drink and use drugs and threaten gun violence.

Family discussion: Is Janet a hypocrite about healthcare when she responds to Bill’s announcement? Why is it hard for Martha to respond the way Jinny wants her to? Why did Tom come to the party?

If you like this, try: Potter’s other films, including “Yes,” “Orlando,” and “The Tango Lesson”

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Comedy Drama movie review Movies Movies Politics

A Fantastic Woman

Posted on February 6, 2018 at 2:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler

Copyright 2017 Sony Pictures Classics
Chile’s Oscar-nominated “A Fantastic Woman” is a modern twist on the kind of Douglas Sirk or Joan Crawford movies of the 1950’s about women in torment. Those were stories of women forced to suffer indignities but who never lost their own dignity and glamour. In the mid-century, “the problem that has no name” described by Betty Friedan had not yet led to the women’s movement, and women in film and in real life often felt invisible, as though all women cared about was keeping the house clean and the children happy. In this film, our heroine is a trans woman named Marina, played by a trans actress, Daniela Vega. The story is about her struggle to be seen for who she is and for all that she is.

“I didn’t think anyone was here,” says the son of Marina’s lover, who has used his key to barge into the apartment they shared without knocking and announces he is taking their dog. For Marina, still in shock from the sudden death of the man she loved, this is just one of a series of encounters intended to do more than ignore her — they are intended to erase her. It is not just that her lover’s adult children and former wife are embarrassed to acknowledge that he was in love with a young trans woman. They do not want to acknowledge that she existed. They do not want her at the funeral. They want her to vacate the apartment immediately. The police, the doctor at the hospital, the social worker and the doctor she insists must examine Marina for evidence of abuse — all find a way to diminish and misgender her. Even someone close to her has to be reminded to put on his glasses so he can see her clearly.

Throughout it all, Vega suffers exquisitely. Others try not to see who she is, but Marina is entirely secure in herself and in the love she shared with the man who died. In one of the film’s most striking scenes, Marina uses the refusal of the world to see her as a protective cloak of invisibility, to allow her to pass from one strictly gendered sanctuary, the women’a locker room of a sauna, to another: the men’s. In order to reclaim something that means a great deal to her, she will temporarily erase the core of her being, an essential self she has fought very hard to claim. Vega’s face as she makes her way from the towel-under-the-arms women’s locker room to the towel-around-the-waist men’s locker room is a brilliantly layered mix of emotions.

In more than one scene, reflections show us characters as doubles. This movie is a double of its own, with art and life reflecting one another so that we see not just Marina but also Vega for the fantastic women they are.

Parents should know that this movie includes mature material, with nudity, sexual references and situations, bigotry against a trans woman, strong language, peril and violence, and a sad death.

Family discussion: How does the movie show us characters who are unable to or refuse to “see” Marina? What do we learn from the fantasy sequences?

If you like this, try; “Volver” and the Amazon series “Transparent”

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Drama movie review Movies Movies

Hostiles

Posted on January 18, 2018 at 2:41 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, and language
Profanity: Some very strong and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive and very graphic violence, many characters injured and killed, rapes
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 19, 2018

Copyright 2017 Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures
“Hostiles” is more in conversation with movies about the settlement of the West than it is about or in conversation with the brutal history of the West itself. For decades there were simple stories of brave cowboys and soldiers fighting racist caricatures of Native Americans. White men were heroes and Indians were savages.

Then there were some stories with a little more nuance and some better intentions but pretty much on the side of “civilization” and the more nuanced Native American characters were usually played by actors who were not Native Americans. Westerns went out of vogue in part because of the growing recognition that the stories were too complicated and painful for the “good guys vs. bad guys” cliches of the past. “Hostiles” is a sincere effort from writer/director Scott Cooper at a Western that frankly grapples with the challenge of building a society on the unthinkable carnage and injustice of the past. But there is more formula than drama, with each character specifically designed to represent a place on the spectrum of culpability. With dialogue like “I don’t know what we are going to do with these wretched savages” and “There ain’t enough punishment for his kind” and soldiers with too-symmetrical responses to their own culpability, and unceasing brutality to drive the points home, even the fine acting cannot bring it to life.

Christian Bale plays Captain Joseph Blocker, a man who has witnessed and inflicted horrible brutality in the fight with Indians. When he is ordered to escort an Indian leader and his family to their home, he refuses, until his superior officer threatens to court-martial him and withhold his pension. Blocker despises Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), who has been in prison for years and is dying of cancer. But the President has ordered that he be allowed to return home to die, and he will need an escort to protect him and his family.

Blocker assembles a group of soldiers and they begin the journey. They come across Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), whose husband and children have just been killed by Indians, who stole their horses and burned down her home. She is severely traumatized, but Blocker’s respectful treatment helps her begin to accept what has happened, and when Yellow Hawk’s daughter offers her some clothes, she changes out of her blood-stained dress.

Each encounter along the way, most horrifically brutal, is designed to add some variation on the theme, and all boil down to: both white settlers and Native Americans committed atrocities and both have to find some way to reconcile with the past. The film begins with a quote from DH Lawrence: ““The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” Perhaps more apt is a quote attributed to Golda Meir, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”

Parents should know that this film has extended peril, violence, and rape, with many characters injured and killed, including children and a baby, and many grisly and disturbing images, suicide, racist epithets and comments, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What helped Mrs. Quaid begin to accept her loss? How were Blocker and Wills different? Why did Blocker get on the train?

If you like this, try: “Unforgiven” and “The Searchers”

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Drama Epic/Historical movie review Movies Movies Race and Diversity Western
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