Incredibles 2

Posted on June 14, 2018 at 5:49 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action/superhero peril and violence, gun, sad (offscreen) murder of parent
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2018
Copyright Disney Pixar 2018

Brad Bird knows that all families are pretty incredible, and his movies about the family of superheroes reminds us that we know it, too. The writer/director of “The Incredibles” and this sequel, “Incredibles 2” (there’s a lot going on, so this title is streamlined and has no room for an extraneous “the”) took 14 years and it was worth the wait. We are glad to be back in the world of the super-family, though for many of us, our favorite character is still super-suit designer Edna Mode (voiced by Bird himself). Edna’s comment is really the theme of the film: “Parenting done right is really a heroic act.”

One of the best ideas in the original was giving each family member a heightened version of the real-life superpowers we see in all families. The dad is Bob, otherwise known as super-strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson). Mom is Helen, who is always stretched in a million different directions, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). The middle school daughter, Violet (Sarah Vowell) is invisible, because middle school is such a fraught time that many kids either think they are invisible or wish they were. And her younger brother is super-fast Dash (Huck Milner). There’s also a baby named Jack-Jack, who in the last film had not developed any superpowers yet, but in this sequel makes up for lost time with at least 17 of them.

We begin right where the first film left off. Even though they just saved the day, superheroes are still outlawed by a government that considers them too much of a risk. Violet has finally been noticed by the boy she likes. And a new super-villain, The Underminer, has attacked the town.

The Incredibles save the day, but it does not change the law. “Politicians don’t understand people who do good only because they think it right.” Even the secret government program to keep the superheroes saving the day is shut down.  The Incredible family has no place to go…until a pair of siblings who head up a huge corporation make them an offer.  They think they can persuade the government to change the law, but first Elastigirl — and only Elastigirl — will have to come with them.

The movie’s funniest moments come when Bob is left behind with the kids.  He may be able to lift a locomotive, but new math is an entirely different problem.  And Jack Jack’s new powers start popping out like jumping beans.  The concept of baby-proofing a house takes on a whole new meaning when it isn’t the baby you’re trying to protect. It’s the house that needs protection when a baby has laser beam eyes, invisibility, and a mode that can only be described as fire-breathing gorgon.  He may not be able to walk or talk yet, but a raccoon who won’t leave the yard will be very sorry about making that mistake.

Meanwhile, Elastigirl is happy to be using her powers again, but she misses her family, even when she gets a call about Dash’s missing shoes in the middle of a mission.  Of course a new villain is going to challenge the whole family, their old friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and a delightful new group of oddball superheroes. The action scenes are as thrillingly staged as all of the “Fast/Furious” films put together, the mid-century-inspired production design is sensationally sleek and space age, especially the house the Incredibles borrow. Some serious and timely issues are touched on lightly but meaningfully, including immigration, how to respond to laws you consider unfair, opting for “ease over quality” in consumer goods, and spending too much time on screens with not enough connection to people. The villain, once revealed, seems a bit patched together, however, as though there was some re-writing done over the 14-year gestation period that never got fully resolved. But there is plenty of comedy and lots of heart in a story that truly is incredible.  Please don’t make us wait until 14 years for the next one.

NOTE: Pixar continues its track record for making parents in the audience cry, this time even before the feature begins. The short cartoon before “Incredibles 2” is the story of a mom who just is not ready for her son to grow up and, I’m sorry, I must have something in my eye.

Parents should know that this movie includes an offscreen murder of a parent with a gun, extended action/superhero peril and violence, characters mesmerized and forced to obey, and brief mild language.

Family discussion:  Which is more important, selling or designing? When should you be a cynic and when should you be a believer?  What are your core beliefs?

If you like this, try: “The Incredibles,” “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Inside Out,” and “Sky High”

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Tag

Posted on June 14, 2018 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, drug use and brief nudity
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic peril and violence, medical issues
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

One of the most reliably funny situations in literature is adults taking on with utmost seriousness the kinds of concerns generally left to children. The bigger the gap between the actual and perceived stakes, the funnier it gets. One of my favorite P.G. Wodehouse stories, “The Purity of the Turf” is a classic example.

“Tag” is the story of adult men who have been playing the same game since their schoolyard days. The players may not be all-stars when it comes to tagging each other, but as comic actors they are at the top of the class, and every one of the actors is a standout. Despite a couple of missteps in the script, it is one of the most consistently and even endearingly funny films of the summer.

Children like the game of tag because the rules are simple enough to learn immediately but complicated enough to negotiate over (no tag backs!), because you can run around and triumph over each other. Normally, though, when children get older they prefer more structure and complexity and move on to amateur versions of popular games that you can see professionals play on television like tennis and golf. Not the “Tag Brothers,” though. As described in a 2013 Wall Street Journal front page story, a group of Catholic schoolboys spend a month each year trying to tag each other. They wear disguises and sneak into each other’s workplaces. They say that it keeps them young and literally keeps them in touch.

While this is a highly fictionalized — and very funny — version of the story, some of the wildest elements are true. One notorious tag occurred at the funeral of one member’s father. He became “it” as he stood at the side of his father’s grave. And, in an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, he said his father would have loved it.

In a job interview, Hoagie (Ed Helms) explains that even though he is a veterinarian, he is applying for a job as a janitor because it is on his apparently quite literal bucket list. The job is at a large corporation, where Callahan, the CEO (Jon Hamm), is about to be interviewed by a reporter for the Wall Street Journal (Annabelle Wallis as Rebecca). Hoagie successfully not only tags Callahan but persuades him to leave the interview, the office, and pretty much any shred of adult responsibility to spend the month of May playing tag. There is a special reason for this year’s tag game. Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one of the group who has never been tagged. He’s essentially the tag ninja. He is getting married on the last day of the annual tag month, and the game may be over after that. Hoagie, Callahan, their stoner friend Chilli (Jake Johnson), and the high-strung Sable they interrupt in the middle of a therapy session (Hannibal Buress) join forces to get Jerry at last.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” the tag team likes to say, even though they are not always accurate about who said it. But it turns out that you can keep playing but you can’t put off getting old. The simplest game in the world, probably dating back to the Cro-Magnan era, cannot help developing an overlay of complexity as the players get older, both in tactics and stakes. That is part of what makes this movie so much silly fun. Seeing grown-ups strategize a game of tag — including formal legal amendments to the foundational agreement — gives this movie a joyful bounciness that becomes positively giddy.

The mayhem is deftly staged by director Jeff Tomsic and editor Josh Crockett, but the film never loses sight of how much the game means to the players and the people around them. Isla Fisher, as Hoagie’s wife, brings that “Wedding Crasher” intensity. She is as committed and competitive as the whole group of guys put together, and thank you to the filmmakers, including producer Will Ferrell, for not relegating the women in the cast to the “Now, honey, it’s time for you grow up” roles. Thomas Middleditch makes the most of his scene as a health club attendant with a braid and an attitude. Helms, Buress, and Johnson are all terrific, creating complete characters in the midst of the comic chaos, but it is a special pleasure to see Hamm and Renner, known for their dramatic roles, show off their comedy skills. With a team like this, I’d keep playing, too.

Parents should know that this film includes constant very strong and crude language, vulgar sexual references and situations, a bare behind, extended comic peril, mayhem, and violence, medical issues played for comedy including cancer and a miscarriage, alcohol, alcoholism, and marijuana.

Family discussion: What childhood game do you still enjoy? What keeps you connected to your old friends?

If you like this, try; “The Hangover” and “Cedar Rapids”

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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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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Posted on June 7, 2018 at 5:23 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated, some thematic elements and language
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Discussion of difficult topics including assassinations, terrorism, prejudice, disability, loss
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 8, 2018
Copyright 2018 Focus Features

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is about Mr. Rogers, a kind, gentle star of PBS children’s programming who liked us us just the way we were and was the neighbor we would all love to have next door.

His story is told in a documentary that matches its subject. It is candid but respectful, utterly heartwarming, and a particularly timely reminder that we don’t have to be swept away in bombast and sensory overload. It is also a welcome reminder that children need us to help them understand themselves and the world around them, even when some aspects are painful and difficult. Indeed, Fred Rogers exemplified the idea that adults were here to protect children not by keeping information about tragedy and hardship away from them but by helping them learn how to respond. His advice to “look for the helpers” is always repeated when some terrible new story is in the news. And of course he was one of the greatest helpers of all. “One of my main jobs,” he said, “is through the mass media to help children through the difficult modulators of life.” These included world events and also family issues like divorce and emotions like anger. One of the film’s most remarkable archival scenes is Fred Rogers testifying before a skeptical Senator about the importance of funding PBS. Instead of reeling off statistics, Rogers recited the lyrics to a song about how to deal with angry feelings. When he was done, the senator, obviously not just moved but pretty much tamed, says quietly, “You just got $20 million.”

Fred Rogers was an aspiring Presbyterian minister when he realized that television had enormous influence on children and that most of children’s programming was loud, rude, and violent. He put his plans on hold to start a series for the new Public Broadcasting Service that would be quiet, low-key, and low-tech. As a producer of the show noted the theory of the series was, “You take all of the elements that make good television and don’t do any of them.” He says, “I never felt I had to wear a funny hat.” And he welcomes elements that are anathema to television, including silence. Mr. Rogers set a timer to show children how long a minute was and just sat there while it moved around the circle. There a lot of “slow space, but no wasted space.” He was patient. He listened.

The show’s first national broadcast was in 1968, a time when there were many difficult modulators to navigate. “What does assassination mean?” a frightened Daniel Tiger puppet asks? He gets an answer that is honest but presented in a way that helps him not just understand it but understand how to process it.

In each episode, Mr. Rogers would come into the house, change his shoes, put on his sweater (one is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American History), and have a little chat or sing a song to the audience. He would talk to the mailman or another friend from the neighborhood, and maybe interview a guest or explain something, from how biscuits get made in a bakery to how a young Yo Yo Ma plays the cello. Rogers himself never appeared before the camera in the other part of the show, set in a magical land, because he wanted a clear demarcation between the “real” and fantasy parts of the show. But he voiced the puppets, as many as ten characters, and we see more than once that those puppets allowed him to express parts of himself he could not any other way.

Director Morgan Neville (“20 Feet from Stardom”) had nearly 1000 hours of archival footage to choose from and, while he certainly could have made several movies based on Fred Rogers’ life, the clips and contemporary interviews are exceptionally well chosen and well matched. We learn that Rogers asked Francois Clemons, a black man, to play the policeman on the show in part to promote diversity. A scene from the show where the men soak their feet together to cool off on a hot day is juxtaposed with contemporary news footage of black swimmers being thrown out of a public pool. Clemons says he was reluctant to play a policeman because the experience of his own neighborhood with police was not good. But he took the job. And then we learn that Clemons is gay, and hear how Rogers’ response to that news changed over time.

Two of the movie’s most powerful archival scenes are the interview Rogers said was his most memorable, with Jeff Erlanger a cheerful 10-year-old quadriplegic, and his time with Koko, who apparently indicated that he was her favorite visitor. Rogers’ palpable delight and boundless empathy have them end up in an embrace that is utterly endearing.

We hear from his family, friends, and colleagues, and from Ma (whose son is one of the film’s producers). But most of all, we hear from Rogers himself, who tells us, “I don’t think anyone can grow unless he is accepted exactly as he is.” Other than Fox News, who we briefly hear blaming Rogers for the entitlement of the millennial generation, we all feel lucky that Mr. Rogers was exactly who he was, and this lovely film reminds us that we cal all be more like him.

Parents should know that this movie includes discussion of difficult issues and some archival footage of tragic news stories and a brief humorous shot of a bare bottom.

Family discussion: What parts of Mr. Rogers did we only see through the puppets? What are your favorite television shows for children?

If you like this, try: “20 Feet from Stardom” and “Street Gang” (about “Sesame Street”)

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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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