Oceans 8

Posted on June 7, 2018 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Marijuana, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 8, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

Heist films are irresistible, especially when they are as twisty and stylish as “Oceans 8.” First, there is the practicality of the puzzle part. I always love the way they set it up to show us how impossible it is, so we can fully appreciate the cleverness of the characters in coming up with plans to surmount the various traps and security features. And then things always go wrong in the moment, so we have the fun of seeing problem-solving in real time. But just as important is the luxury of the fantasy element. We get to identify with people who, like wizards and superheroes, operate outside of the usual rules. All we need is some very slight reason not to worry about the people who are being stolen from (they are usually either unworthy or so institutional it seems impersonal), and we’re on board.

“Oceans 8” has another reason to intrigue us as well. We are already very familiar, perhaps too familiar with the “Oceans 11” series, which rather wore out its welcome by the last in the trilogy and perhaps the original, starring Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Freshening up the concept with an all-female group of grifters and thieves with a cast that features three Oscar-winners and a sensationally beautiful style icon gives it an embedded freshness and underdog quality. “A him gets noticed; a her gets ignored,” Debbie Ocean says. “For once, we want to be ignored.”

Debbie (Sandra Bullock) is just out of prison after five years, eight months, and twelve days. She explains to the parole board that she has learned her lesson and all she wants is “the simple life. Hold down a job, make some friends, go for a walk after work in the fresh air, pay my bills.” They buy it. And soon she is out, shoplifting herself a new wardrobe and swindling herself a hotel room. She visits the grave of her brother, Danny (the character played by George Clooney in the male “Oceans” movies), though the movie does leave open the possibility that his death might just be another con. And she gets in touch with two of her partners in grift from the past, Lou (Cate Blanchett), who has been dealing in petty cons like watering vodka, and art dealer Claude Becker (Richard Armitage), against whom Debbie seems to have quite a grudge.

Debbie has spent her time in prison devising a heist of delightful complexity and ingenuity. Of course in reality it was devised by director Gary Ross, who wrote the script with Olivia Milch, and one of their best ideas was to set the robbery at the most glamorous event in America, the annual Met Gala (that’s GAH-la, not GAY-la). Their plan: to get the event’s celebrity chair, an air-headed actress named Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear a $150,000,000 diamond necklace so they can steal it.  And this gives us a peek into the most exclusive party of the year, with a delicious chance to get up close to huge celebrities in fabulously over-the-top gowns (though gala empress Anna Wintour is played by an anonymous extra in an impeccably coiffed wig).

This will involve a combination of talents from the psychological (persuading Kluger to choose an out-of-fashion designer and persuading Cartier to loan the necklace) to the technological (everyone needs a hacker these days) to the embedding of various moles to good old-fashioned pickpocketing. As we used to say in the 70’s, sisterhood is powerful.  I won’t spoil any of the twists or surprises; I’ll just say that I enjoyed them all very much and this crowd and they are welcome to steal a necklace from me any time.

Parents should know that this film has criminal behavior, some mild peril, brief strong language, alcohol, and marijuana.

Family discussion: If you had a crackerjack team of thieves, what would you want to steal? What would be the biggest obstacle? What was the movie’s biggest surprise?

If you like this try: the documentary about the Met Gala, The First Monday in May and other sophisticated heist movies like the original and remake versions of “Oceans 11,” “The Italian Job,” and “The Thomas Crown Affair” as well as “How to Steal a Million” and “Topkapi”

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Hearts Beat Loud

Posted on June 7, 2018 at 5:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some drug references and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, references to drug use, scenes in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Family and economic struggles, absent parent
Diversity Issues: Divers characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 8, 2018

Copyright 2018 Gunpowder & Sky
Isn’t it nice that we get to go live in Brett Haley World every now and then? The gifted young writer-director of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “Hero” always gives us characters who might be flawed, who might not be where they expected or wanted or deserved to be, but who are marvelously human and endearing. His latest is “Hearts Beat Loud,” the story of a single dad with a failing business (vinyl records) and a bright, beautiful daughter about to leave for college. It is nothing less than high praise to say these are nice people. We love spending time with them. One reason is that Haley writes roles that great actors want to play, and he creates a space for them to do their best.

An early scene is not the usual father-daughter dispute. The daughter is Sam (Kiersey Clemons), a high school senior planning to be a doctor, and she wants to study to get ready for pre-med courses about the human heart. Her father, Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman), wants to entice her away from her studies for “a jam sesh.” She is not interested. He wants them to be a band and asks her to name it. “We are not a band,” she says. “We Are Not a Band” it becomes, a Schrodinger’s Cat of a name that is both true and not true. Frank impulsively uploads Sam’s song to Spotify. Some attention to the song makes Frank think that they — maybe she — could have the chance he always dreamed of.

Is Sam a kid who had to be the grown-up in the relationship because her father never got over his dream of music? Well, maybe a little bit, but In Haley’s films, nothing is ever simple or formulaic. Sam respects and loves her dad, and even shares his love for music. She understands why he wants her to play with him. They won’t have many opportunities to do things together when she leaves. It is the prospect of her leaving that makes strengthening that bond even more important, though they both understand that having lived away from home will change everything between them, even when she comes back. There is another reason Frank wants to spend more time with Sam in the place that means the most to him, though he may not recognize it consciously at first. He gets to a point, though, where he asks: “Is there a girl? Or a boy?”

It is a girl. Sam is in love with Rose (Sasha Lane), an endearingly sweet first love. The mutual support and respect between the two girls is beautifully portrayed.

Sam has a mother who needs more support (“I’ll See You in My Dreams” star Blythe Danner) and he has a landlady (Toni Collette) who is almost a member of the family. When he tells her he can no longer pay even the discounted rent she generously allows him, she does everything she can to find a way to keep him there because she cares about him and she knows he cares about the store. She knows he cares about her, too, but she is in a relationship. And Sam has a buddy, a pot-smoking bartender played by Ted Danson (nice to see him behind a bar again).

Every performance in the film is a quiet gem. Offerman, so good at comic bombast in “Parks and Rec”is even better in a role that is not heightened but natural and understated. Frank is holding in a lot of his feelings, partly because he does not want Sam to see him worry about the store, his mother, or getting on after she leaves. But Offerman lets us see all of that and more, and he never for a moment lets us think that Frank is or thinks of himself as a loser. Clemons is a real find, radiant and completely believable as the braniac future doctor, the smokin’ singer, and the girl on the brink of first-time teenage love. Danson and Collette settle into their roles with infinite grace. The music in the film is fine. The music of the film sings straight to the heart.

Parents should know that this movie has references to pot smoking, some drinking, non-explicit teen sex, references to loss, and brief strong language.

Family discussion: What would you name your band? Did Frank make the right decision? What will happen next?

If you like this, try: “Danny Collins” and “Janie Jones”

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Tully

Posted on May 3, 2018 at 2:27 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drunk driving
Violence/ Scariness: Auto accident with injuries
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 4, 2018
Copyright 2018 Focus Features

With “Tully,” their third collaboration, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody are approaching a “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight”-style series about the challenges of growing up and getting older.

It may not be the same set of characters, but “Juno,” “Young Adult,” and now “Tully” can be seen as a continuing story with smart, flawed female protagonists. The first was a pregnant teenager, then a floundering author trying to reclaim the life she thought she was going to have when she was in high school, and now a married mother of two, pregnant with a third, trying to connect with the person she once was when all of her time and attention was not taken up with obligations to others. Charlize Theron plays Marlo, the exhausted mother, and Mackenzie Davis plays the title character, a night nanny who turns out to be just what Marlo needs in ways that surprise her and us.

Marlo is exhausted and overwhelmed. Her second child is a son who is described by the school principal in the words that strike terror and a fierce defensiveness in the heart of a parent: “quirky” and “out of the box” — and then, finally, “not a good fit.” Every morning, with infinite patience and tenderness, Marlo gently brushes his whole body because she saw online that it might help him with sensory integration. When he has a meltdown because she isn’t parking in the usual spot, she is compassionate. But it is clear that she is giving so much to her family that she has lost some sense of herself and her own needs.

Marlo has a brother (Mark Duplass) who offers her a baby gift — the services of a night nanny, someone who comes at night to help new parents get some rest. Marlo and her husband (Ron Livingston) enjoy mocking her brother and his wife for being materialistic and bourgeois. It also makes them feel a bit superior and helps them ignore their envy at his financial stability. The idea of a “night nanny,” even paid for by someone else seems like just another mockable bougie pretension. But then Marlo has the baby as her husband’s job keeps him away from home and, even more exhausted and overwhelmed, she calls the number her brother gave her, and Tully (Mackenzie Davis) shows up like a hipster Mary Poppins.

She’s not just a baby whisperer; she’s a Marlo whisperer, too.  With patience and kindness, she listens attentively, and she very gently and supportively guides Marlo, to feel peaceful and cared for.  “Kiss the baby,” she says, as Marlo begins to trudge upstairs to bed. “She’ll be different in the morning.  We all will.”  Marlo comes down the next morning and the house is neat.  Tully even makes cupcakes.  She even presses Marlo about reconnecting to her husband.

Theron’s performance here is superb.  “Brave” when referring to an actress, usually means that she doesn’t look like a size zero teenager.  And Theron went for it here, gaining 50 pounds from her “Atomic Blonde” action star look, and she does indeed appear like a very pretty woman who has had three children.  But what is brave here is her extraordinary emotional authenticity, her vulnerability, and her wry humor.  When she tells the officious, though superficially kind school principal that the baby is a blessing, we can see three levels to that word.  Marlo is saying the word she thinks will ingratiate her with the principal who is trying to politely extricate her son from the school (those deadly words, “not a good fit”).  She is sarcastic (Cody loves sarcasm).  But, you know what? She really believes it, too.  Tully’s greatest contribution is reminding Marlo that all that is overwhelming her is what she once wished for.  This is her happy ever after ending and even if it’s going to be messy, there has to be a way to hold on to that before she ends up missing it.

Sharply but lovingly observed, clearly based on deeply lived experience, with lots of Cody’s shrewd wit and enormous compassion for its characters, “Tully” is as welcome in theaters as its title character is at Marlo’s door.

Parents should know that this film includes glimpses of pornography, explicit sexual references and nudity, very strong language, childbirth scene, drinking and drunkenness, and an auto accident with injuries.

Family discussion: Who is Tully? Why did she visit Marlo? Why are Marlo and her brother so different? What does “quirky” mean?

If you like this, try: “Juno,” by the same director and writer

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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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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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