Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, language and brief nudity
Some strong and crude language
Theme of aging, medical issues
Date Released to Theaters:
June 29, 2018
There are a lot of movies based on books and plays, and many movies based on songs and video games. And now, apparently, we’ve got a movie based on a television commercial. “Uncle Drew” is inspired by a 2012 series of Pepsi ads written and directed by and featuring real-life NBA player and science skepticKyrie Irving, disguised as an old man, astonishing some neighborhood hoopsters with his sweet moves. This version expands the story by adding more real-life players and upping the stakes to the $100,000 prize at the real-life Rucker Park competition in Harlem.
Basically, the serviceable script by Jay Longino and spirited direction from Charles Stone III (“Drumline”) follows the classic formula of all underdog sports movies, but it does so with three key assets. First, there’s an awesome dance-off scene, always a good thing, and here it is especially delightful because it turns out that people who are the best in the world at basketball have some sweet moves off the court as well. Second, even for someone who is not a sports fan, the skills they show off here are not just impressive; they are truly aesthetically beautiful. Third is the fun these athletes are clearly having, so palpable it is genuinely infectious. And for those who are sports fans, there are lots of inside jokes including one about too many time outs.
And they have the able support of “Get Short’s” Lil Rel Howery, “Girls Trip’s” Tiffany Haddish, and Nick Kroll, who must be getting a kick out of seeing someone else in old age makeup after wearing it every night in his “Oh, Hello” show on Broadway with John Mulaney.
So, no surprise here, Howery plays Dax, a coach who has put everything into his team in hopes of winning at Rucker Park. When his players and his gold-digging girlfriend (Haddish) are swiped by his rival (Kroll), the same guy whose block in a high school game shamed Dax into deciding never to play again.
Desperate, Dax invites veteran player Uncle Drew (Irving) to put a team together to compete for the prize. This means a road trip to visit each of the former members of what was once the Harlem Buckets. There’s a preacher who holds a baby about to be baptized as though he was a basketball (Chris Webber), a legally blind assisted living resident (Reggie Miller), a silent grandfather in a wheelchair (Nate Robinson), and a martial arts instructor (Shaquille O’Neal). The preacher also has a wife who does not want him to go. She is very tall. She is also played by former WNBA player Lisa Leslie, so don’t be surprised if she gets called in as a replacement at a crucial moment.
It’s very silly, but surprisingly sweet and its unpretentiousness makes this at least a two-pointer.
Parents should know that this film includes crude humor, sexual references, a brief image of a bare butt, and some medical/aging issues.
Family discussion: Why did one bad experience make Dax quit playing basketball? Why was it so hard for Uncle Drew to apologize?
The “early men” are Stone Age denizens Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his friends, led by the Chief (Timothy Spall), who appears to be quite elderly, but that’s by Stone Age standards. He’s in his 30’s. These people are extremely primitive. They live in caves and their most advanced technology is Flintstones-style use of animals (beetles as hair clippers, tiny crocodiles as clothespins for what barely, and I mean that literally, qualify as clothes). They are not quite sure what it means to be human, and I mean that literally as well. One “member” of their group is a boulder they refer to as “Mr. Rock.” They barely qualify as hunter/gatherers. While they go out with spears every day to try to get rabbits to eat, they are not very good at communicating with each other, or aiming, or hitting anything they aim at.
And then one day their idyllic little territory is invaded by a group riding armor-clad mammoths. It is the Bronze Age and they want to take over the area for mining. Ultimately, it will come down to an unusual but rather progressive way for solving border disputes: a soccer game (which they call football). On one side, champions who are highly skilled professionals with lots of experience but are arrogant prima donnas. On the other side, a bunch of people who have not yet invented the wheel and have never played before. But they have two advantages: a gifted Bronze Age player who has never been allowed on the field because she is a woman (now you know why we call sexism prehistoric), and, just possibly, the ability to work together as a team.
I am a devoted Anglophile, but got the strong sense that some of the references went past me and are only understandable to true insiders, especially those who follow soccer, I mean football. Some of Aardman’s quirky whimsy flickers in now and then. The opening title cards tell us when and where we are: “The Neo-Pleistocene Era”/“near Manchester”/“around lunchtime”). The message bird played by “The Trip’s” Rob Brydon is very funny, too, and the tactile, bug-eyed goofiness of the Aardman characters is always endearing.
Parents should know that there is some comic peril and violence and threatened more serious violence as well as some schoolyard language and potty humor.
Family discussion: Why did the Bronze Age community develop when the Stone Age did not? Will the Stone Age people try to get some of the advantages of the Bronze Age? Why did learning about the past make them doubt themselves?
If you like this, try: “The Crudes” and the “Wallace and Gromit” and “Shaun the Sheep” series
Rated R for pervasive language, violence, and some sexual content/nudity
Extensive very strong and crude language
Drinking, smoking, drugs
Some violence including attack
Date Released to Theaters:
December 8, 2017
In one of “I, Tonya’s” most striking scenes, Margo Robbie as figure skating star Tonya Harding looks at herself in the mirror after applying her make-up for a competition. It is stark, garish, clown-like, and scary, less like beauty than like warpaint. Harding is trying to hide the heartbreak of her life when she is on the one place where everything is pretty and perfect, but in trying to make herself look pretty and perfect she has created a monster. That scene exemplifies the movie’s themes about public and private personas and the way they can crash into each other with terrible destructive force.
In 1994, Nancy Kerrigan, one of Harding’s rivals, was attacked by a Shane Stant (Ricky Russert), who had been hired by two of history’s most incompetent criminals, Harding’s estranged husband, Jeff Gilhooly (Sebastian Stan) and his dimwitted friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser). Though Harding was not involved or even aware of this plan, news reports of the era emphasized the contrast between ice princess Kerrigan, and blue-collar Harding. In reality, Kerrigan was also from a modest background, but her appearance and routines were more elegant and graceful, while Harding adopted a bad girl persona, calling herself the “Charles Barkley of figure skating.” The problem is that figure skating is not just about skill and technique. It is about the show, and it is about the persona. Judges and fans expect more than athletic achievement.
They expect elegance and grace on and off the rink. They want the ice princess.
Allison Janney is incendiary as Harding’s abusive mother, constantly pushing her and demeaning her, often hitting her, too. With no affection or approval at home, she was drawn to Gilhooly, the first male to pay any attention to her, and when he became abusive, that seemed normal, too.
Director Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) and screenwriter Steven Rogers (“Stepmom,” “Love the Coopers”), promise us at the beginning a story “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory and totally true interviews,” and they deliver. Like “The Disaster Artist,” this film takes us behind the scenes of a real-life catastrophe based on dreams of stardom, hopeless miscalculation about their own abilities, and a distorted, media-fueled idea of reality. We may watch expecting to laugh and feel superior, but the prismatic approach, with characters speaking to us to explain their perspectives (or try to put the blame on each other) is surprisingly sympathetic, grounded, and insightful.
Parents should know that this film includes constant very strong and crude language, sexual references and situations, nudity, drinking, drugs, smoking, and violence, including domestic abuse.
Family discussion: Who was responsible for attacking Nancy Kerrigan? Why does the movie call itself “irony-free?” Do you agree that Americans “want someone to hate?”
If you like this, try: “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom” and “Tonya Harding: Anything to Win”
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and partial nudity
Some strong language
A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters:
September 22, 2017
Date Released to DVD:
January 1, 2018
“You’ve come a long way, baby!” was the 1970’s slogan for a cigarette for women. Virginia Slims were marketed as a badge of liberation and sophistication. They had a woman’s slightly naughty-sounding name and a word with a lot of appeal to female consumers (and a suggestion that they would aid in keeping weight down). They had a kicky advertising campaign. And they were the only commercial product willing to sponsor the brand new Women’s Tennis Association, founded by tennis champion Billie Jean King to protest the pay differential in professional tennis, with women making a fraction of the prize money awarded to the men. When they raised the issue, they were told that women’s tennis was not as interesting (even though they sold as many or more tickets at the same price as the tickets to see the men play) and because the men had families to support. It may now seem absurd, or at least off-brand to have a women’s athletic competition sponsored by a cigarette, but probably no more absurd than the argument that “the men’s tennis is more exciting to watch; it’s biology.”
One-time men’s tennis champ Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was a bit of a sexist and more than a bit of a showman, and much more than a bit of a gambler. And so he bragged that even in his 50’s he could beat the top-ranked women’s player. Margaret Court accepted the challenge, and he triumphed in a humiliating defeat. And so, Billie Jean King agreed to play him in something between a sporting event and a three ring circus, complete with marching band, scantily dressed cheerleaders in Sugar Daddy outfits, and the ceremonial presentation by King to Riggs of an actual pig.
So, not your usual night on ESPN, which, of course, had not been invented yet. This was front-page news in the midst of the fight for what people were still calling “women’s liberation.” This was consciousness raising whether you liked it or not.
It is especially suitable that this film was directed by a female/male team: Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (“Little Miss Sunshine”). They found the human story, the vulnerability, the drive, the fear, the resolve behind the hoopla and hyperbole, and they have made a film about real people that is moving and, even though we know the outcome of the game, suspenseful.
Bobby Riggs would have been a public feminist if he could make a dollar at it. (A dollar, by the way, is what the original players in King’s Women’s Tennis Association were paid to sign up.) He would cheerfully admit, except possibly to his wealthy wife (Elisabeth Shue), that he was more of a showman and a huckster than an athlete. Billie Jean King was a determined, disciplined athlete at the forefront of the Gloria Steinem era of feminists. She was companionably married to Larry King (not the TV show host), but she was beginning to admit to herself that she was attracted to women. Her hairstylist, Marilyn (Andrea Reisborough), leans in and brushes her hand on Billie Jean’s cheek. The woman who never allowed herself any distractions has met a distraction she cannot ignore.
Faris and Dayton create the environment of the 70’s without any air quotes. The cinematography, the score, the deft use of Howard Cosell’s actual commentary during the match (at one point, he says approvingly that King moves like a man), evoke the era without exaggeration or snottiness. Every performance shines, including Sarah Silverman in the Eve Arden wry sidekick role. The film is generous to all of its characters, even the real and metaphorical pigs.
Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and an explicit situation with some nudity, issues of sexual orientation, some crude language, alcohol, cigarettes, sexism, and homophobia.
Family discussion: What is different today and what hasn’t changed? Why did Billie Jean King decide to play Bobby Riggs?
If you like this, try: Footage of the real King/Riggs game
Interview: American Wrestler’s William Fichtner and Ali Afshar
Posted on May 3, 2017 at 8:00 am
Tonight only! A special event from Fathom: “American Wrestler: The Wizard,” a stirring sports story based on real events. William Fichtner, who plays the coach, and Ali Afshar, who produced the film and plays a character in the film, spoke to me about why these stories are so important and meaningful.
What makes somebody a good wrestler?
AA: Fight, fight, fight and more fight. If you have that burning desire in you, if you’re just one of those guys that does not like losing and you fight and you fight and you fight, that’s what makes you a good wrestler.
I’ve always wondered about wrestling — you are so intensely involved with your opponent more really than any other sport. Are you able to really kind of feel what the opponent’s strategy is while you’re in the middle of it?
AA: Yes. When he is kicking you in the butt, has you in a headlock, his elbow in your face? Yes, you definitely feel it but yes, you are right, it’s very intense. Any sport that lasts six minutes, that’s it, you can just imagine how intense it is, only six minutes long. So, it’s a full on, we used to call it legal fighting, this is before MMA and all the stuff you see now. So for us it was literally like — you are young, you’ve got all this energy, you’re male, you just want to fight. So it was the way to get out all our aggression but learn lessons, learn strategies, kind of like in life. If you try something, if you try a move, if you take a single leg takedown and it doesn’t work, you don’t give up. You go for a double leg. You don’t give up, you go for a switch. You don’t give up, you do a fireman’s carry. I think that’s the story for life where life will knock you down, life will not accept your first try, you’re going to have to try and fight and try and fight again and again and again. You don’t give up; you will succeed. I think it’s very parallel with the stuff that you have to do in the real world.
What makes somebody a good coach?
WF: I think great teachers, which coaches are, are the ones that you hear. You know the best teacher that I ever had, the best acting coach that I ever had wasn’t the person I was trying to see in the studio, he had too long of a waiting list so I went to the fallback guy. But the best was the one that I heard when I was a kid, the one whose voice speaks to you, that you understand. It’s communication. If you have that, than anything is possible. And I think that’s true in just about every facet of life. So to me those are the ones that made the difference, those are the ones you never forgot. I wasn’t a math wiz when I was a kid but one of my security questions that we all have to do these days is, “Who’s your favorite teacher?” And I still remember my seventh grade math teacher, that is my security question and he was the one, he was the one that I heard his voice, I heard what he was telling me and he was a great guy so I think that makes a great coach.
I just talked to for the first time in 20 years, I spoke to him a few months ago because word got to me that he wasn’t feeling well and I reconnected and had a whole hour on the phone with him, it was great.
This movie is set in the past and yet with its focus on suspicion of immigrants it seems to be very relevant to what’s going on today.
I experienced it and even though it’s 30-40 years ago it’s still a lot of the same stuff today especially with all this immigration stuff and the ban and the wall and all this tough stuff that’s going on right now. It’s really like not much has changed in certain ways and people need to realize people are people regardless of where you’re from. Yes, there’s going to be government and politics that aren’t representative of everyone. So, we have to really take it by a person by person basis, we can’t just say, “hey, this guy looks like this,” or “he’s that religion” or “he wears this kind of clothes,” “your skin tone is this way.”
Clearly I still think that’s an issue. I don’t think; I know it’s an issue. They might not come out and say it much but it is still there, it’s still underlying, it’s still boils up there. Being from a country like Iran which unfortunately right now is like the worst country to be from in America, you still want to be an American. When you actually sit down and talk to people, you just realize people are people, you just make friendships. So, I think that acceptance and anti-prejudice is really what I’d love to have people feel when they watch this movie.
What advice did Mr. Fichtner give you about acting?
AA: He used this word “rhythm.” Do you still use it?
WF: Every day of my life, brother.
AA: He has a certain rhythm and he elevates the game just by who he is in his craft and his talent to what he brings to it. George Kosturos, our lead in this movie did a fantastic job. This is pretty much his first real big acting job and being under the wing of Bill, being under the wing of Jon Voight in certain scenes, working with myself — you’re present and you’re connected.
Mr. Fichtner, what was it that brought to that role?
WF: I was living in Prague at the time, two years ago and my wife was over there with my younger son, I came back like a week before spring break because I had a meeting and I came back here. I got a call from my manager. I read the script on this Tuesday had a conversation with Ali on a Wednesday traveled on a Thursday and started shooting on a Friday. It was not a story that I needed to read over and over to be talked into, that’s for sure. It only took one read. I knew Jon Voight was involved with it and I read it and I just absolutely loved it on a first read. I just trusted everything about it, just one of those, you go with your gut feeling. Two days later we were shooting in Petaluma,in his hometown on a very limited budget, on a 18 days schedule and it definitely was 5 pounds of bologna in a 2 pound bag but three weeks later the film was wrapped and here we are two years later.
And I’m so proud because a lot of times little films like this, they may not see the light of day. The folks at Warner Brothers really got the film, we do have a limited release and so on May 3rd we get a single day release in scattered theater throughout US. So, I can tell you one thing, I know I always said from the beginning please have it playing in a theater in Buffalo, New York, my hometown because I’m going to pack that theater and I’m hoping that some people see it because it could make a difference on the future like being in theaters after that depending on how we do on that day. But no matter what happens with the film, I love this movie as much as any film I could have ever worked on and I don’t say that lightly, I think it’s a very special story, I think it’s an incredible period piece.
I’ve seen a half of dozen screenings of it over the last year. I’ve taken friends and representatives to this film and I’ve yet to have anybody have a reaction that is different from anybody else. People walk out of this movie and go, “What an amazing story, what a timeless thing, what an important film for people to see right now.” It’s truly inspiring. I just love sitting back — I don’t say anything, I just let them all say it and I just say “Yes.” It’s kind of a great feeling. I think that was the intention and it does not fail to deliver.