Leap!

Posted on August 24, 2017 at 5:25 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some impolite humor, and action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril and comic violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 25, 2017
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2017

Copyright 2017 The Weinstein Company
“Leap!” would be amiable if a bit dull, a mediocre-grade filler if not for a crucial misjudgment about the main character’s choices and consequences and a storyline that depends on two key characters having completely unfounded total changes of personality.

The premise is a generic “kid with a dream” story about a boy and girl who run away from an orphanage to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer and his dream of becoming an inventor (and his other dream of becoming her boyfriend) in Paris of the late 19th century, as both the Eiffel Tower is being built. The spirited Felice (Elle Fanning) and awkward Victor (Nat Wolff) are best friends who are the closest thing to family in the orphanage run by stern Mother Superior (Kate McKinnon), and grumpy Luteau (Mel Brooks), a cross between a janitor and a truant officer.

With the help of mechanical wings invented by Victor, they finally make it to Paris, where Victor becomes an apprentice to an engineer and Felice lies her way into the prestigious ballet school, using the acceptance letter of a snooty rich girl named Camille (real-life dancer and Sia muse Maddie Ziegler). She actually does not know anything about ballet, but a mysterious cleaning lady with a limp with the name of one of ballet’s most famous roles, Odette (singer Carly Rae Jepsen) agrees, Mr. Miyagi-style, to give her some lessons. Jump up to ring a bell tied to a tree branch and land in a puddle without making a splash. And yes, wax on and wax off — but with her feet.

We know where this is going. Strong voice talent and some imaginative visuals, especially in the dance scenes, cannot make up for tedious detours (a handsome and charming young male dancer who makes Victor jealous, a dragon lady meanie a la Cruella de Vil, a visit to the in-progress Statue of Liberty with a recitation of the Emma Lazarus poem that we have all just been reminded was not added until later), and, as noted, plot developments that depend on two characters having complete changes of personality for no reason. Most troubling is that Felice makes repeated serious mistakes, breaking promises and telling lies, with almost no consequences, giving a sourness to the storyline. It’s one thing to imagine that a young girl could learn several years of ballet training in a few days; it’s another to show her hurting the people around her, and then have her easily forgiven without any effort to make amends.

Parents should know that there is some reckless and irresponsible behavior with only minor consequences; they will want to discuss Felice’s choices and their impact on the people around her. There is also some potty humor.

Family discussion: Why did Felice break her promise to Odette? How did helping Felice change Odette’s ideas about herself?

If you like this, try: “An American Girl: Isabelle Dances into the Spotlight” and “A Ballerina’s Tale”

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Posted on August 17, 2017 at 5:02 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and language throughout
Profanity: Extended very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence, guns, explosions, assault weapons, chases, car crashes, knives, many characters injured and killed, many disturbing bloody images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 18, 2017
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2017

Copyright 2017 Summit Entertainment
If they’re not going to waste time coming up with a story, I’m not going to waste time trying to explain it. The title says it all. There’s a hitman named Darius (Samuel L. Jackson). There’s a bodyguard named Michael (Ryan Reynolds). They have a history. And they quip, shoot, and punch their merry way through a buddy-cop action comedy so generic it may have been created by algorithm. More thought went into the various set-pieces, the chases, explosions, shoot-outs, and hand-to-hand combats than into the story, something about transporting Darius to the Hague so he can testify against a dictator charged with genocide.

This may not be the moment for violent and lethal mayhem as lighthearted summer fun, including the execution of a man’s wife and child as he watches in horror. A lot of heads explode when they are hit by bullets and the fact that we don’t know most of them because they are all faceless guys in riot gear does not make a difference. So, stipulating that the premise is dumb, the plot makes no sense, the genre has been played out endlessly over the years, sometimes worse but sometimes much better, including with these two actors, and that it is especially dispiriting to see Salma Hayek wasted in a silly spitfire role, I will share a couple of thoughts about the two stars.

Ryan Reynolds: I don’t know why you would want to give this movie any more of your time, but if for some reason you sit through the very long credits (lots of locations, lots of stunts), you will see a brief extra scene that will give you an idea of what a talented professional Ryan Reynolds is. He had just one job in that shot, to have a particular facial expression that matched the expression in another scene. He was ready to go when the shooting had to be held up because loud church bells began playing nearby. We hear someone from the crew yell out that they are holding for the church bells, and we see Reynolds hold that expression and that mood as the bells keep ringing and then keep ringing some more. He keeps it together for an impressive length of time, then finally gives up, wipes his eyes, and makes a quip. But it gives you a sense that even in a silly shoot-em-up like this piece of forgettable fluff, he holds himself to the highest standard. Also, the character here is designed around his strengths. He is at his best when he is playing a decent guy who is frustrated and snarky. The script doesn’t give him much to work with — the yadda yadda about his triple A rating is especially tiresome and the romantic complications are inane. But he makes the best of it with great timing and essential decency.

Samuel L. Jackson: Lord knows, he could phone it in by now. He’s done this exact role more times than even he can count. But he brings it, snapping out every one of those MFs like he’s been waiting to do it all his life and creating a character with no help from the script. He even has to sing. One smart move made by the screenwriter is giving Darius two impediments, one emotional, one physical to make it believable that Michael could be a match for him. Kind of like in “Batman vs. Superman,” when they had to kryptonite-ize Superman but not too much to make it an even fight.

Someday, when this movie comes on cable, just check it out long enough to see not why we pay these guys the big bucks but why they’re worth it.

Parents should know that this film includes constant peril and violence with chases, explosions, shoot-outs, assault weapons, knives, various other weapons, many characters injured and killed, graphic and disturbing images including bloody wounds and heads exploding, very strong language, drinking, drugs, brief nudity, and a brief glimpse of a prostitute.

Family discussion: Who was right about what makes a bad guy? Why was it hard for Michael to believe Amelia?

If you like this, try: “Midnight Run,” “Mr. Right,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance”

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The Glass Castle

Posted on August 10, 2017 at 5:41 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, alcohol and alcohol abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Domestic violence, child badly burned in a cooking accident, child neglect and endangerment
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 11, 2017
Date Released to DVD: November 6, 2017

Copyright 2017 Lionsgate
In her 1986 best-seller, Necessary Losses, author/poet Judith Viorst talks about the beliefs each of us has to give up in order to move forward. The first and in some ways the most difficult is the understanding that our parents are not all-powerful and all-knowing, and that they cannot kiss all of our hurts and troubles away forever. Some of those realizations are worse than others. Most of us, I hope, do not have to give up on the idea that our parents at least want to take care of us and that they do their best. But parents who neglect or abuse their children take away something worse than food and safety; they take a child’s senses of trust and pride.

And so “The Glass Castle,” based on the best-selling memoir by Jeannette Walls, begins with Walls, a sophisticated, elegant, and successful New York journalist (Oscar-winner Brie Larson) on her way home in a cab after dinner in an expensive restaurant with her fiance and his prospective client, seeing her parents dumpster diving. They were homeless.

And so, we go back in time to see her as a very young child, telling her mother, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) she is hungry. “Would you rather me make you some food that will be gone in an hour or finish this painting that will last forever?” It is a rhetorical question. Young Jeannette (Chandler Head) toddles over to the stove to make herself some hot dogs. But her dress catches on fire and she is badly burned.

When her father, Rex (Woody Harrelson) decides to take her out of the hospital, without doctor permission and without paying. At this point, Jeannette is still young enough to believe everything her parents tell her, like “our home goes wherever we go.” Rex, probably self-medicating for undiagnosed bipolar disorder, was immensely brilliant and charismatic. The glass castle of the title was the home he kept promising to build the family, and he spent years drawing plans for it. Rex and Rose Mary were less and less able to maintain any kind of stability at the same time that the children became more and more aware of what they were entitled to expect and unlikely to get. Instead of excitedly making plans for the castle, they began pleading with him to stop drinking. And then, when he could not, they decided to take responsibility for themselves and each other.

Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton worked with Larson in the outstanding “Short Term 12,” which also had themes of abuse, damage, and resilience. He is especially good here in dealing with the challenge of three different performers, some quite young, portraying Jeannette and her siblings, maintaining consistency as they grow up, but using the cinematography to help convey the journey from their glowing memories of childhood, believing in their parents’ view of the world as beneath them, to the grittier life of deprivation and uncertainty. The spot where the glass castle was supposed to be built literally becomes a garbage dump.

What’s wisest and most significant is that the film becomes more than the story of survival. It is really only when Jeannette stops being afraid to tell the truth about herself that she is able to accept the best of what Rex and Rose Mary brought to her life. As Walls — and Viorst — might agree, necessary losses are worth the pain when they lead to the freedom that only comes from being true about and to yourself.

Parents should know that this film concerns the neglect and abuse of children, parents with substance abuse and mental illness problems. It includes smoking, drinking and drunkenness, domestic abuse, a child burned in a fire, strong language, and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: Why did Jeanette decide to tell her story? What was she grateful for receiving from her parents? If there was a movie about your family, who would you like to play you?

If you like this, try: “Running with Scissors,” “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” (another real-life story with Woody Harrelson as a father with a drinking problem), and “Infinitely Polar Bear,” and the book by Walls

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Transformers: The Last Knight

Posted on June 20, 2017 at 5:37 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo
Profanity: Strong language, many s-words and crude insults
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/fantasy violence, fire, guns, explosions, chases, characters injured and killed, reference to suicide
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2017
Date Released to DVD: September 25, 2017
Copyright 2017 Paramount

It is time to stop the madness. I only wish this was called “Knight: The Last Transformers Movie.” I am as happy as anyone to see robots transforming into cars and cars transforming into robots and I freely admit to tearing up once when it appeared that Bumblebee might have been mortally wounded. I’m very fond of Sir Anthony Hopkins, and I’m also very fond of Mark Wahlberg. But this big, loud, dumb, dull, nonsensical dud of a movie is two and a half excruciating hours long.

Wahlberg returns as inventor-turned-renegade Autobots protector Cade Yeager. The government has set up a special branch of the military to get rid of all of the transformers, making no distinction between the honorable Autobots led by Optimus Prime and the evil Decepticons led by Megatron. We see in a prologue set in the time of King Arthur that the Transformers go back more than 1000 years, when Merlin, who turns out to have had no magical skills at all, was given the “weapon of ultimate power,” a staff that enabled Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to win some battle with the help of a pretty impressive three-headed dragon. The staff and an amulet that is somehow connected to it will be the McGuffins that everyone will be looking for despite the fact that we never really find out what they can do.

Sure, the stunts are fun, and I especially enjoyed seeing Wahlberg leap from drone to drone like he was a stone skipping on a pond. But without a clear idea of the stakes there is no heft to them; it’s just pixels.

And the dialog — I can’t say which is worse, the painful attempts at banter (there’s an intended-to-be cute but isn’t at all riff on the homonyms “chaste” and “chased”), the exposition-heavy portentousness (“Where in Hell is your so-called magician?” “He will be here, Lancelot.” “Why do we tell ourselves these stories? We want to believe we can be heroes in our own lives.” “Do you seek redemption?” “Only a direct descendant of Merlin can wield this instrument of immense power!”), or the faux meaningful (“You are more important than you can possibly imagine”). If someone has to be spouting off idiotic explanations, though, at least most of it is in the beautifully husky Welsh voice of Sir Anthony (though his character’s ripping a page out of an antique library book is the most disturbingly violent act in the film).

Not much makes sense in “Transformers: The Last Night.” I’m not talking about why a robot would smoke a robot cigar-type sense. We expect that going in. But why would a robot want to eat a car?
And I’m talking about the basic elements that are necessary to connect to what is going on. How do you kill a Decepticon? Sometimes robots blow apart and sometimes they just come back together like in “Terminator 2.” How do we know how we are supposed to feel if we don’t know what the impact/import of a hit is? That all-powerful weapon? We never understand what it can do and it doesn’t seem very powerful after all. What is the point of Tony Hale spouting off about physics? I will note that one completely deranged moment was actually quite fun, when a C-3PO rip-off (acknowledged as such!) turns out to be the source of the dramatic organ music in one scene: “I was making the moment more epic.” A bit more deliriously loopy stuff like that would have been a step in the right direction.

What is the point of all the jokes about how a professor at Oxford should be looking for a husband? (Or a wife?) What is the deal with way too many daddy issues? Everyone in this movie seems to be a daughter looking for a daddy or a daddy looking for a daughter. As for this daughter, I’m just looking for a good summer stunts and explosions movie. Still looking.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/fantasy peril and violence with chases, explosions, swords, guns, and monsters. Human and robot characters are injured and killed. Characters use strong and crude language and there is some dumb sexual humor.

Family discussion: Does it matter that Cade is “chosen?” Which Transformer is your favorite and why?

If you like this, try: the other “Transformers” movies and the television series

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The Book of Henry

Posted on June 15, 2017 at 5:37 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief strong language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drug reference
Violence/ Scariness: Theme of child sexual abuse, attempted murder, suicide, medical issues, sad death, peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2017
Date Released to DVD: October 2, 2017
Copyright 2017 Focus Features

I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for movies, even syrupy ones, about super-gifted kids and am generally willing to give them some leeway as metaphor or fairy tale.  So I’m okay with “August Rush,” “Pay it Forward,” “A Monster Calls,” etc.  But “The Book of Henry” crosses the line from syrupy to smarmy, and where it wanted to be endearing, it was annoying, and then infuriating.

Jaeden Lieberher, who is making a career out of playing preternaturally wise and powerful children, has the title role as Henry, an 11-year old who is the kind of genius only found in movies. Not only is he a total braniac who understands architecture, finance, electronics, existential conundrums, weapons, and engineering, he has a rapier wit and knows the difference between different kinds of tumors and can read an MRI. Furthermore, he is a near-empath who instantly understands the people he cares about. In other words, he is not a character; he is a symbol and his purpose in the story is to give other characters important life lessons.

Henry has a younger brother, Pete (Jacob Tremblay of “Room”), who is in the movie to play the role of Normal Kid. And they have a mother, Susan (Naomi Watts), who is loving and devoted but irresponsible. Henry is the grown-up in the family, stopping at a phone booth after school to place complicated brokerage orders.

Let’s pause for a moment on that last point. Yes, I said phone booth. Even though the movie takes place sort of now (there are cell phones, a coffeemaker, video games, and a super-duper weapon), it has a deliberately retro feel. Henry and Pete use old walkie-talkies, barely a glimpse of a laptop (who needs one; Henry’s a walking Wikipedia). Susan is a waitress at a diner that could be out of the 1950’s, though her boss (“SNL’s” Bobby Moynihan) offers to pay her by direct deposit. You do not need to be Henry to figure out that this is supposed to lull us into cutesy-ness.

Henry has a crush on the girl next door, a classmate named Christina (Sia muse Maddie Ziegler), who lives with her stepfather, Glenn (Dean Norris), the town’s police commissioner. Henry senses that Glenn is abusing Christina. When Glenn’s position of power makes it impossible to protect her through official channels, he comes up with a dangerous plan to keep her safe.

To say more would be to risk spoilers, so I will just note that pretty much everything that happens after that is intended to be touching and poignant but  none of it is .   Lee Pace does his best with the thankless role of Doctor Perfect, who would make Prince Charming look like the guy who gets eliminated in the first episode of “The Bachelorette.” And Sarah Silverman adds some sass as Susan’s best pal, who joins her in wisecracks about how they aren’t rich and in getting drunk.  Christina has a lovely dance number in the school talent show.  And Watts is marvelous as always.  But the story’s preposterousness and manipulation thwarts their best efforts to provide some grounding.

Parents should know that the movie’s themes include child sexual abuse, attempted vigilante murder, and a very sad death of a child, and suicide. There is some strong language, a drug reference, and drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: What should Susan have done about the couple in the store? What made Susan change her mind?

If you like this, try: “Phenomenon” and “Disturbia”

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