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
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. 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

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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Solo: A Star Wars Story

Posted on May 22, 2018 at 2:32 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi style peril, action, and violence, chases, shootouts, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 24, 2018
Copyright 2018 Disney

The moment I became a “Star Wars” fan forever was in the cantina scene in what I will always refer to as the first “Star Wars” movie, now of course known as Episode IV, “A New Hope.” It was when Ben Kenobi tells Han (Harrison Ford, of course) he hopes to avoid any Imperial entanglements, and Han leans back and says, “Well, that’s the real trick, isn’t it?” with so much rakish charm that we have to instantly forgive him for bragging about making the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs. (We will always be too polite to mention that parsecs measure distance not time. Who knows, maybe a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, they told time in parsecs.)

So, would I like to see that Kessel run? And how Han met Chewy the wookiee? And how me met the dashing buccaneer, Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams in Episodes V and VI and here by master-of-all-arts Donald Glover? And the bet that won Han the brand-spanking-new Millennium Falcon? Written by “Empire Strikes Back” and “Force Awakens” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, with his son Jonathan (“Dawson’s Creek”)? With the divine Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) voicing a slightly loopy and more than slightly lippy droid? You bet I do!

Does it deliver? You bet your Han Solo hanging dice it does! Does Han shoot first? This time he does!

This prequel has the wonderfully charismatic Alden Ehrenreich (the “Would that t’were so simple” guy from “Hail, Ceasar!”) as Han, who lives with other orphans in a work camp led by Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Think Fagin, without the warmth. He has a plan to escape with the girl he loves, Qi’ra (“Game of Thrones” dragon-rider Emilia Clarke). Han is a bit of a rascal, but also an optimist back in these teenage years. “Wherever we go it can’t be worse than where we’ve been,” he says. But we know it can.

And as we know from films like “Casablanca” and “The Fifth Element,” whether it’s the letters of transit or the multipass, you have to have the right paperwork to get away. Han escapes (and in the film’s cheesiest moment, is assigned a last name based on his solitary status) but Qi’ra is captured. Han decided to enlist with the Imperial forces to get trained as a pilot so he can return to save her.

Three years later, Han has been thrown out of the academy and is now a grunt in the Imperial military. He meets a bandit named Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and his ragtag crew (is there any other kind?) of daredevils, and agrees to join forces with them on a heist so he can get a ship go back and rescue Qi’ra. This leads to a marvelously staged sci-fi version of a western train robbery.

It turns out that Beckett is not stealing on his own behalf, but working for someone else, someone who is not forgiving when things do not go well, harking back to the original cantina scene again, where we learn that Han had to jettison the cargo he was delivering to Jabba the Hutt. The big crime boss is Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany, with scars across his face as though a space tiger clawed his cheeks, scars that redden when he gets angry. Beckett and Han have to try again.

Along the way Han meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and Lando. I am not going to spoil how; I’ll just say that both encounters are fitting and highly entertaining. Han does meet up with Qi’ra again, but is not ready to see how she has been affected by what she has had to do to survive. She joins the team and they take on another big heist. There’s a high-stakes card game, a trial by combat, and good advice that gets ignored. And the better you know the series, the more references and callbacks you will be delighted to discover. There are new insights about well-known characters and intriguing new ones, especially Waller-Bridge as a droid with a few crossed wires. In addition to the touches that center this in the “Star Wars” universe, there are references to classic movie genres, heist films and westerns and maybe “The Wages of Fear.” It may not be necessary, but it is most welcome, a thrilling and warm-hearted adventure in its own right that fits as satisfyingly into the “Star Wars” universe as that last piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

Parents should know that like all “Star Wars” movies, this one has non-stop peril and action with some disturbing images and many characters injured and killed. There is some mild language and some alcohol.

Family discussion: What do you think happened when Han was at the Academy? What is Han’s greatest skill?

If you like this, try: the other “Star Wars” films

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Pope Francis — A Man of His Word

Posted on May 18, 2018 at 7:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic material including images of suffering
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Images of tragic circumstances including illness and oppression
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 18, 2018
Copyright 2018 Focus Features

Wim Wenders’ unabashedly admiring documentary about Pope Francis is an intriguing and inspiring look at the man who is breaking a number of precedents in the Holy See. He is the first pope from South America after 265 predecessors, mostly from Italy. He is the first Jesuit, an order known for scholarship who “seek to find God in all things.” And he was the first to choose the name Francis, after the 16th century saint who was devoted to animals and nature.

He is unaffected, explaining that he wants to live very simply. He speaks to audiences and to us via the camera with candor and sincerity on topics ranging from the environment to interfaith understanding to the “three T’s” he says should be the foundations of our lives: in English, they are work (for dignity and contribution to the community — “to imitate God with your hands by creating”), land (to support sustainable resources), and roof (home, family).

Wenders interweaves a re-enactment of moments in the life of St. Francis to show parallels with his namesake. But the heart of the movie is seeing His Holiness interact with the crowds of people who are palpably moved by him. Visiting an American prison, he reminds the inmates that the very first man to become a saint was a prisoner like them. And then, in an act of infinite tenderness, he washes and kisses prisoners’ feet. A girl asks him why he has renounced wealth. He tells her that poverty around the world is a scandal, and “we must all become a little bit poorer…poverty is central to the gospel.” We can see the lugubrious faces of some of the Vatican priests and cardinals, looking as though this is not a welcome interpretation. Later, visiting his home country of Argentina, the crowd almost ecstatic with pride, he reminds them of a local expression: “You can always add water to the beans.”

One of the most striking scenes in the film has images of environmental damage projected onto the outside of St. Peter’s Basilica. “The poorest of the poor is Mother Earth. We have plundered her.” And he reminds us that it is the poorest of the poor who suffer first and most from environmental degradation.

His Holiness appears before the United States Congress and goes to Jerusalem to meet with rabbis and imams. He sits alone in a cell at the Holocaust museum Yad Vashem. He speaks movingly to groups and to us about the importance of listening. He misses the connection of taking confession. He says smiles are “the flower of the heart” and speaks of the importance of of having a sense of humor. He tells us the prayer of St. Thomas More he says every morning that always makes him smile.

“An artist is an apostle of beauty,” he tells us. Wenders has taken that to heart and created a film that gives us a rare chance to hear directly from a man whose devotion and compassion will inspire anyone.

Parents should know that this film includes some footage of suffering, including illness, poverty, and abuse.

Family discussion: How do the “three T’s” appear in your life? Why is listening especially important to Pope Francis?

If you like this, try: “The Letters” and “Nuns on the Bus”

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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

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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