How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Posted on May 31, 2018 at 4:02 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, some drug use and nudity
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Sci-fi peril and some violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 1, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 13, 2018
Copyright 2018 A24

Three suburban British schoolboys in the 1990’s are big fans of punk because it seems thrilling to challenge authority and pretty much everything.  But they are not very knowledgeable about anything outside of their own experience, and so when they accidentally wander into a strange party that happens to be a bunch of aliens, they just assume that they must be American girls. In How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Americans, girls, and aliens — they’re all equally unknown, and so, for these boys anyway, easy to confuse.

Neil Gaiman’s sly short story has been lovingly adapted by John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Rabbit Hole”), with a breakout performance by Tony-winner Alex Sharp as Enn (short for Henry), a sweet-natured kid who, like his two best friends, loves punk and really, really, really wants to learn how to talk to girls.  Somehow, though, at parties he’s the one who ends up in the kitchen talking to someone’s mum. One night, after a punk concert, they go in search of a party they heard about but end up knocking on the wrong door.  Inside, each room has a different gathering or ritual or happening going on, all exceptionally attractive people (though one has made a mistake in manifesting and has a weird forked finger).

We know what it will take Enn the whole movie to figure out.  These are not American girls. They are aliens, on some sort of galactic tour.  And one of them, named Zan (Elle Fanning, looking far too perfect to be a human) is an alien version of punk, open-minded, curious, and inclined to break the rules. She and Enn go out exploring the world together, and they explore each other a bit, too.

The fun of all fish out of water films is seeing our world, in this case our former world, through fresh eyes. We may laugh as Zan discovers what happens when a human body processes food or speaks whatever comes into her head without understanding social norms like privacy or embarrassment. But we also appreciate her wonder at the gritty, harsh British suburb and the very things that punk is rebelling against. Her encounter with a punk queen (Nicole Kidman with gusto and evident enjoyment) is surprisingly endearing. And when Zan’s alien leaders want to interfere, well, let’s just say that it can be a real advantage to have punks on your side. A magical musical number brings everything together in quite literal terms.

Sharp is the real deal. I was struck by his performance on Broadway and really happy to see him in this film. He is able to convey innocence that comes from being true-hearted, not from a slapstick kind of awkwardness. Fanning continues to be one of the most appealing young performers in films today, always thoughtful and heartfelt. Their Romeo and Juliet romance is sweet and touching, with the adventures of Enn’s friends providing some counterpoint. Punk in this film is not angry so much as revolutionary, fueled by ideas and optimism. That may seem like an alien idea today, but Mitchell makes it seem right on time.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, sexual references and situations, teen partying, drinking, drugs, nudity, and some peril and violence.

Family discussion: What does punk mean to you? What is punk today? Why didn’t Zan want to follow the rules?

If you like this, try: “Stardust” and “Coraline,” also based on books by Neil Gaiman

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Adrift

Posted on May 31, 2018 at 3:36 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for injury images, peril, language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, brief drug use
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 1, 2018
Date Released to DVD: September 3, 2018
Copyright 2018 STX Films

If I ever decide to pursue a PhD, I think I will go for a combined film/economics degree and study the correlation between the quality of a film and the star also being the producer. There will be plenty of data.

Shailene Woodley produces and stars in “Adrift,” based on the true story of a young couple sailing across the Pacific Ocean in the early 1980’s, who were caught in a deadly hurricane. There is obviously a lot of appeal for an actress in a story of the struggle to survive with the opportunity to show courage, resilience, and determination. But the back-and-forth flashbacks weaken the intensity of that struggle and a weak script with a Gothika Rule-worthy twist ending make even a story of survival more disappointing than inspiring.

Tami (Woodley) is a free spirit as we see when the immigration official in Tahiti asks her what her profession is and she replies, “Whatever job pays me enough to get me to the next place.” She has been traveling full-time since she graduated from high school five years earlier, most recently as chef on a schooner. She meets Richard (Sam Claflin), a British Naval Academy drop-out who worked in a boatyard so that he could build his own sailboat and has been on the water pretty much full-time ever since. Though he tells her that being at sea alone is mostly being “sunburnt, sleep-deprived, seasick, or all three at once. And after a few days, there’s the hallucinations.” But there is something both of them find irresistible in sailing into the horizon, and both have an unquenchable desire to see what the world has to offer. In one of the movie’s best scenes, she says a sunset at sea is red (as in “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight”), and he makes her see all the different shades and colors within the red. While she teases him about it later, she loves seeing the world through his eyes. And he loves her spirit of adventure.

When a wealthy friend offers Richard $10,000 and two first-class plane tickets to sail his yacht to San Diego, it seems like a perfect way for them to begin their life of adventure. But we know from the movie’s first shot that they are sailing into terrible trouble. We first see Tami submerged, and then we see her come to, disoriented, in the wrecked and waterlogged hull of the yacht, with Richard gone. Later we will see their tiny ship buffeted about by waves (the special effects are fine but nothing we didn’t see in “The Perfect Storm”) interspersed with scenes of their early romance and scenes of the 41 days adrift, with no way to get help or let anyone know where they were.

I don’t want to spoil the movie’s twist here, but per the Gothika Rule will be happy to share it to anyone who writes to me at moviemom@moviemom.com. I’ll just saw that while I am sure it was a deeply spiritual and sustaining experience for Tami, it comes across poorly on screen, leaving the audience, yes, adrift.

Parents should know that this film includes intense mortal peril with severe and graphic injuries, some strong language, sexual references, nudity, brief drug use, alcohol, reference to suicide and teen pregnancy, and a sad death.

Family discussion: How many ways can you think of to describe red? Why was the frangipani so meaningful? Why did Tami say she wouldn’t trade the experience for anything? What problem-solving skills helped her the most?

If you like this, try: “Touching the Void” and “The Life of Pi”

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Book Club

Posted on May 17, 2018 at 5:11 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout and for language
Profanity: Some strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 18, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 27, 2018
Copyright 2018 Paramount

Hey, people behind “Sex and the City,” you might want to call your lawyers. Maybe those of you behind “The Golden Girls,” too. “Book Club,” starring four Oscar winners from the 1970’s, is pretty much an AARP version of SATC, with four women who endlessly confide everything in each other, mostly about sex and some about romance. How does a movie with these magnificent, strong, smart stars fail the Bechdel test?

In this mix, Jane Fonda plays Samantha, I mean Vivian, the luxury hotel owner who has a lot of sex but only with men she doesn’t care about. “I can’t sleep with people I like,” she says referring to the literal act of slumber. “I gave that up in the 90’s.” Mary Steenburgen plays Charlotte, I mean Carol, happily married to a man she loves (Craig T. Nelson), but not happy about their humdrum sex life. Candice Bergen is Miranda, I mean Sharon, a judge who is long-divorced and resolutely single, living only with a cat called Ginsburg. And Diane Keaton plays a character named Diane who is somewhere between Carrie and “Golden Girls'” Rose, a sweet-natured recent widow with two devoted and over-solicitous daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton), who want her to leave her home and move in with them in Arizona.

The women have had a book club together for decades, mostly an excuse for them to get together. When Vivian hands out copies of the naughty bondage and discipline Fifty Shades of Grey novel by E.L. James, it causes all four of them to rethink their own romantic and sexual options. Vivian reconnects with the guy she almost married four decades earlier (Don Johnson, whose daughter starred in the movie version of Fifty Shades). Diane meets a very handsome man on a plane (Andy Garcia) and has to decide if she is open to a new relationship. Sharon decides to try swiping right with a little online dating and ends up having dinner with a tax lawyer (Richard Dreyfuss, every bit as charming as he was in “The Goodbye Girl“). And Carol tries to spice it up with her recently retired husband, who seems to have no interest in sex.

This provides many opportunities for the foursome to get together to discuss each other’s situations in detail. And if you think that they might omit the makeover scene with everyone weighing in on what one of them should wear on a big date and a scene of triumph over the ex’s new young love, rest assured they did not.

It is good to see these brilliant stars give it their best, which is what it takes to overcome the drippy screenplay, co-written by director Bill Holderman (with Erin Simms), and pedestrian direction. It’s like taking a Hallmark Romance Channel movie script and instead of casting the farm team (1990’s television series stars), it sends in the All-Pro heavy hitters. Or a “Love Boat” episode from the days when one segment always featured some 80-something former movie star. This group is able to carry it pretty far, especially Fonda, clearly relishing her role, and Garcia, who is able to give some grounding to a thinly written Prince Charming character. But the silly premise, Bumble product placement, clunky double entendre, unimaginative soundtrack, and Viagra humor make us long for the more reliable middle-age female empowerment fluff of Nancy Meyers.

Parents should know that this film has extensive and explicit sexual references and situations, including the visible results of a double does of Viagra, played for comedy, as well as some strong language and alcohol.

Family discussion: Why were Diane’s daughters so worried about her? Why was it hard for her to tell them no? Why was Vivian reluctant to become close to Arthur? Did the books have an impact on their choices?

If you like this, try: “The Jane Austen Book Club” and some of the earlier films of these stars like “Barefoot in the Park,” “Starting Over,” “Melvin and Howard,” and “Annie Hall”

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Deadpool 2

Posted on May 15, 2018 at 9:04 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very graphic peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 18, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 20, 2018
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2018

Wait. Don’t read any further. If you liked the first Deadpool, then go see Deadpool 2 before you read or hear any spoilers and come back here afterward to hear what I thought and share your own reactions. Oh, no, one thing before you go. No popcorn, no Twizzlers, no giant sodas for this one. Between laughing so hard you gasp for air and just gasping at some of the crazy stunts, if you try to eat or drink something as you watch, you just might choke or spill it.

Remember the first “Deadpool?” That crazy sloooow-motion opening action scene to the tune of “Angel in the Morning” with Ryan Reynolds’ deadpan Deadpool voiceover introducing us to the fourth-wall-breaking, meta-meta, winking-at-us-and-itself while-delivering on the action and a tender romance as well Marvel movie about the special forces guy turned gun for hire turned cancer patient turned science experiment turned super(anti)hero? Well, he’s back, (temporarily) blown to bits, out for revenge, and out for something a bit unexpected as well. Yes, believe Wade/Deadpool when he tells you that this is a story about family. Also butterfly-effect-free time travel, a prison break, ironic use of a classic pop song, some snark on DC (and Wolverine, of course), one of the funniest scenes ever filmed about a bad guy trying to get information from the good guy’s buddy, a bad guy played by the same actor who played Thanos but this time less CGI, a new ballad from Celine Dion, a blink and you’ll miss it cameo by one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the guy from “Catastrophe,” the guy from “IT,” and some very persuasive evidence that the best superpower could just be….luck. And that last one would be Domino, perhaps the only superhero character whose name is not as cool as the name of the actor — Zazie Beetz, who needs her own movie, now.

Just in case you’re still with me and have not seen it yet, I’m doing my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, though I would love nothing more than telling you some of my favorite funny moments. Bad stuff happens and Wade/Deadpool seeks revenge. Then a sort of cyborg from the future with seemingly infinite very powerful weapons named Cable (Josh Brolin) shows up, Terminator-style, in search of a kid who has been abused in a “conversion” facility for mutants with special powers (Julian Dennison of “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”). Deadpool puts together a team he dubs the gender-neutral X-Force. (Speaking of dubbing, there’s a whole thing in the movie about dubstep, too.

The quips and pop culture references come at you “Airplane!”-style, faster than the bullets, meta on meta, times meta, meta about meta, breaking the fourth wall and probably the fifth, sixth, and seventh as well. “No more speaking lines for you,” DP tells one character. Instead of the director’s name in the opening credits, it just says “Killed John Wick’s dog.” (That’s David Leitch, and he did.) And yes, there is some sweetness, too, every bit as important in making this work as the wisecracking dialog and bone-cracking stunts. It does not take itself seriously, but it does take delivering a smart, funny, entertaining, and satisfying movie very seriously. With so many superhero franchises out there, it is great to see them developing sub-genres, and “Deadpool” has found the sweet spot in one of the most purely entertaining.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong, explicit, and crude language, sexual references and situations, graphic comic nudity, drinking, drugs, and extended action/superhero violence with many characters injured and killed and some disturbing images.

Family discussion: How do Wade and Cable respond differently to tragedy? What would you say to Russell? What’s the best joke in the movie?

If you like this, try: “Deadpool” and “Guardians of the Galaxy”

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Life of the Party

Posted on May 10, 2018 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content and partying
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, gun, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 11, 2018
Date Released to DVD: August 7, 2018
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

Thank you, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, for figuring out that what we want to see is Melissa McCarthy as America’s sweetheart, not a deranged sociopath. In their previous films, “Tammy” and “The Boss” and in McCarthy’s “Identity Thief” the brilliant comic actress with the adorable dimples was cast as weird, heartless, damaged and damaging characters. It takes nothing away from McCarthy’s considerable dramatic talent (she was outstanding in “St. Vincent” and we are very much looking forward to her performance later this year in the fact-based story of a literary fraud and forger, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) to say that she is at her very best and funniest when she is irrepressibly sunny.

And so Falcone and McCarthy have created just that in Life of the Party, where she plays Deanna, a loving mother and housewife who learns, as she and her husband (Matt Walsh of “Veep”) drop their daughter off at college for her senior year, that her husband is leaving her because he has fallen in love with another woman (“Modern Family’s” Julie Bowen).

Deanna, who wears a “Proud Mom” sweatshirt and has devoted her whole life to her family, is angry and disappointed. She decides that her biggest regret was dropping out of school when she became pregnant with Maddie (Molly Gordon), so what she wants to do is go back and get her degree. This has the additional benefit of being on campus with Maddie who is predictably a bit nonplussed, but supportive. And Maddie’s sorority sisters love Deanna’s enthusiasm and kindness. Yes there’s a mean girl (and an 80’s party dance-off! Yay!), but we don’t have to slog through the expected scenes of students underestimating Deanna just so she can show them how wrong they were.

As in McCarthy’s other best comic roles, in “Bridesmaids,” “Spy,” “Ghostbusters,” and “The Heat,” Deanna may be awkward and overly effusive, but she is also supremely capable and in most situations, confident as well. It’s easy to get a cheap laugh from incompetence and failure, and there are a few of those here, primarily from the underused Gillian Jacobs, playing an undergraduate who was in a coma for eight years and has some catching up to do. Deanna may have a problem with oversharing, she does not always make good choices, and for some reason public speaking puts her into a panic, but she is both smart and wise. She has a sustaining friendship (the invaluable Maya Rudolph) and a perpetual sunniness that everyone around her finds endearing. Her soon-to-be-ex with a skinny blonde girlfriend and a new earring tells her he needs an “upgrade.” But it is Deanna who finds herself upgrading in every category, including a handsome and devoted young beau, played by the very appealing Luke Benward. That is a satisfying starting point for some mostly-adorable silliness and a lot of heart. Deanna repeatedly says she is “down to clown,” which is supposed to be an eye-rolling mom-ism. But it is McCarthy who is truly down to clown and we are all the better for it.

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and situations, potty humor and crude jokes, drinking and drugs, comic mayhem, peril and violence, a gunshot, and some mild language.

Family discussion: What did the girls like about Deanna? What was the biggest change she made?

If you like this, try: More college comedies, including “Back to School,” “Sydney White,” “High Time,” and “The House Bunny”

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