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Family Movies for Martin Luther King Day

Posted on January 15, 2021 at 10:40 am

As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, every family should take time to talk about this great American leader and hero of the Civil Rights Movement. There are outstanding films and other resources for all ages.

New this week is “MLK/FBI” with newly released material about the government’s surveillance, of Dr. King, including informants and wiretaps.

I highly recommend the magnificent movie Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King. And every family should study the history of the Montgomery bus boycott that changed the world.

It is humbling to remember that the boycotters never demanded complete desegregation of the public transit; that seemed too unrealistic a goal. This website has video interviews with the people who were there. This newspaper article describes Dr. King’s meeting with the bus line officials. And excellent teaching materials about the Montgomery bus boycott are available, including the modest and deeply moving reminder to the boycotters once segregation had been ruled unconstitutional that they should “demonstrate calm dignity,” “pray for guidance,” and refrain from boasting or bragging.

Families should also read They Walked To Freedom 1955-1956: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Paul Winfield has the lead in King, a brilliant and meticulously researched NBC miniseries co-starring Cecily Tyson that covers Dr. King’s entire career.

The brilliant film Selma tells the story of the fight for voting rights.

The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, makes clear that the boycott was a reminder to black and white women of their rights and opportunities — and risk of change.

Citizen King is a PBS documentary with archival footage of Dr. King and his colleagues. Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream has his famous speech in full, still one of the most powerful moments in the history of oratory and one of the most meaningful moments in the history of freedom.

For children, Our Friend, Martin and Martin’s Big Words are a good introduction to Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.

The Marksman

Posted on January 13, 2021 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, violence, and some bloody images
Profanity: Some strong language
Nudity/ Sex: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, scene in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive peril and violence, brutal murders, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 15, 2021

Copyright 2021 Voltage Pictures
I can’t help saying that “The Marksman,” the 2021 entry in the annual Liam Neeson action film we usually get to start the year, is no bullseye. Neeson is always watchable and the Mark Patten cinematography makes the most of the southwestern landscape. The shoot-outs are well-staged. But the screenplay by
Chris Charles, Danny Kravitz, and director Robert Lorenz is underwritten and predictable.

This is less the “Taken” or “Cold Pursuit”-style action thriller where we get to enjoy Neeson showing off his special skills than it is a Clint Eastwood-style cranky old guy movie, perhaps because Lorenz is Eastwood’s longtime producer. There’s even a pause where the two main characters watch “Hang ’em High,” a 1968 Eastwood film that was the first from Eastwood’s own production company. In “The Marksman,” Neeson plays an Eastwood-like character who rails against his fate: “I’m trying to understand how you can work your whole life, serve your country, pay your taxes” and end up with nothing.”

Neeson plays Jim a Marine vet turned rancher on the Arizona border. He sometimes finds Mexicans who have been injured illegally crossed the border, and he always calls the immigration authorities, where his stepdaughter Sarah (Katheryn Winnick) is an official.

Wiped out by medical expenses, he is notified by a banker that his ranch is about to be auctioned in 90 days, but can be sold sooner if they get a good offer. The loan officer Jim knew — and who knew Jim — is no longer there at the bank. The fact that Jim’s late wife’s ashes are spread on the hill and that he is “no deadbeat,” does not mean he gets extra time. “You have yourself a good evening,” the banker says as he gets into his car.

Jim finds a Mexican mother and son who have sneaked through a hole in the border fence. He calls the authorities, but then cartel thugs led by Mauricio (Juan Pablo Raba) come after them and start shooting. Jim shoots back. “Sorry, Pancho, these illegals are mine.”

The boy’s uncle stole some money from the cartel. They killed him and now they want to send a message by killing his family. The boy’s mother is shot. As she is dying, she gives the boy a rosary and hands Jim a blood-soaked scrap of paper with an address in Chicago, where the boy’s relatives are. She asks Jim to promise to bring her son to them.

And so, Jim and Miguel (Jacob Perez) get on the road. Jim does not have a phone or GPS, so he buys a map, which an amused sales clerk lets him have at no charge. But the very high tech cartel thugs are able to trace him through his credit card. And so it is a cat-and-mouse road trip with the interactions, escapes, and confrontations you would expect. Which is the problem. This movie is so bereft of ideas that it telegraphs everything that is coming (I mean, the title makes sure we know what Neeson’s special skills are this time) and repeating too much of it.

I respect Neeson’s special skills. I just hope next time they include picking a better script.

Parents should know that this film is about a former Marine who tries to protect a young boy after his mother and uncle are murdered by members of a Mexican drug cartel. The film includes shoot-outs and fighting, with many injuries and deaths, including a parent and a dog, all witnessed by the boy. There is also some strong language and some drinking.

Family discussion: Why does Jim help Miguel? Why does he change his mind about helping Miguel? Why does he end things with Mauricio the way he does? Do you agree?

If you like this, try: “Let Him Go” with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane and “Taken” with Neeson


Posted on January 7, 2021 at 5:33 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Nudity/ Sex: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Brutal domestic abuse, illness, adult and child injured
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 8, 2021
Copyright Amazon 2020

Reflexive pronouns are used differently in the UK. In the US, we mostly use “himself” and “herself” to emphasize achievement: “He learned to ride his bicycle himself!” But in the UK those words are colloquially used as subjects, to refer to individuals. So, in “Herself,” a film co-written by and starring Irish actress Clare Dunne, a man who is helping her character with a big project hands her a tool to take the first step, saying, “We’ll let herself do the honors.” The title refers to both uses of the word, indicating agency and independence.

Dunne plays Sandra, who tells her daughters in the opening scene that the birthmark under her eye was God’s way of making sure he can always find her, because “there are a lot of Sandras in Dublin.” We can see immediately what a patient, loving mother she is, and then again as she dances with her daughters to Sia in their kitchen. But when her husband Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) comes home, the mood shifts subtly but unmistakably. In what is obviously a pattern, he sends the girls outside and begins to beat Sandra brutally. But this time is different. She has made a plan and whispered the code word to her older daughter. Soon they are in shelter space in a hotel.

Sandra sees a video of a man explaining how anyone can build a tiny house. Without any help from the social service agencies, she decides to do it — by herself.

But what that means is getting the help of other people, including a local builder named Aido (Conleth Hill), neighbors, and the disabled doctor she works for as a cleaning lady (the always-marvelous Harriet Walter, mistress of the dry delivery). Like all abusers, Gary had cut her off from other people. But learning to trust and to reach out is as healing as the house itself.

Little details add a lot of richness to the story, showing us instead of telling us. Sandra meets Aido when he rebukes a sales clerk for being rude to her. And we see Aido change his mind about saying no to her when his son Francis (Daniel Ryan), who has Down syndrome, quietly hands Sandra his old work boots to help her get started. Gary’s mother has a poignant confession. A sympathetic social worker (Cathy Belton) helps Sandra when Gary sues her for custody. And the scenes with the neighbors, many of them immigrants, who help build the house are charming and engaging. Dunne’s performance is deeply moving and the story is genuinely heartwarming.

Parents should know that this film includes domestic abuse. Adults and children are injured. There is some strong and crude language.

Family discussion: Why did Sandra tell the judge she was asking the wrong questions? What can we do to provide better support for people like Sandra?

If you like this, try: “Still Mine” and “Places in the Heart”

If Not Now, When?

Posted on January 7, 2021 at 3:18 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
Profanity: Some strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and situations, pregnancy and childbirth, infertility
Alcohol/ Drugs: Addiction
Violence/ Scariness: Fight scene, angry confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 8, 2021

Copyright 2020 Vertical Entertainment
Meagan Good and Tamara Bass co-produced, co-directed, and star in “If Not Now, When?” with a screenplay by Bass. It is the story of four friends who come together as one of them is facing a crisis, and then support each other as each of them faces difficult decisions about life, work, parenting, and romance. Sound soapy? It is, but not because those issues should be dismissed as, in the words of Stephen H. Scheuer’s 1958-1993 guide to movies, “for the ladies.” Plenty of films make clear that those are foundational life questions that everyone struggles with. But the script is the weak point in this film, with exposition-heavy dialogue that too often tells instead of shows.

As we might expect, the strong point of the movie is the performances. Bass and Good understand actors, starting with the casting, and they give them the space to bring more life and emotion to the script than it merits.

In a brief prologue, we see the four friends in high school, working up an elaborate dance routine for a promposal — which is quickly declined. But they’re not bothered. It is clear that they are just as happy going with each other. Tyra (played as a teenager by Li Eubanks), asks them to wait while she goes to the bathroom. It turns out she is in labor. She has not told anyone she is pregnant, not even her friends. They stay with her and promise their support.

Fifteen years later, Tyra (Good) is being discharged from a hospital following an accidental drug overdose. Her friends and her husband, Max (Kyle Schmid) stage an intervention, telling her she needs to go to rehab because she is dependent on opioids. She refuses until she sees her 14-year-old daughter Jillian (Lexi Underwood), who found her unconscious and had to call 911. She reluctantly agrees to go, though at first insists that she does not have a problem.

While she is in rehab, we spend time with the three friends. Suzanne (Mekia Cox) is married to a bitter, unfaithful, alcoholic former football player. She loves another man but won’t leave her husband because she is pregnant, and, more important, because she wants everyone to think her life is perfect. Patrice (Bass), a nurse, is drawn to a doctor at her hospital, but is afraid he will reject her when he learns more about her. Jillian thinks of Patrice as a second mother, and is living with her while Tyra is away.

And Diedre (Meagan Holder), a gifted dancer, is weighing two offers, a dream job choreographing a pop star’s tour and a chance to reconcile with her ex (McKinley Freeman as Jackson), the father of her son. Other than the football player, the men are all gorgeous and pretty much fully devoted to supporting the ladies they adore. With over four different stories and ten characters, including children, there is not enough time to give enough depth to most of them to make us invest in their stories. Much of the film has no score other than some on-the-nose needle drops. Oddly, the lyrics of one say “you are what you choose to be” but another says, “I’ll be different for you, baby.”

Trya’s story gets the most attention, and the most interesting relationship in the film is between Tyra and her counselor at rehab, an exquisite performance by Valarie Pettiford. But the movie really comes to life only when the women are talking to each other, renewing their connections and providing the support that only those ride-or-die friends for decades can give. Good and Bass clearly share that connection, but it is only intermittently that it comes across in the film.

Parents should know that this film includes drug addiction and alcoholism, infidelity, some violence, sexual references and situations, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Why was it so difficult for these women to admit their problems? What made Tyra change her mind about cooperating with treatment?

If you like this, try: “Waiting to Exhale” and “Now and Then”

Critics Choice First Ever Super Awards! January 10 on the CW

Posted on January 6, 2021 at 4:43 pm

Copyright CCA 2021
The Critics Choice Awards are my favorite awards show, and not just because I get to vote and sometimes attend! It is because it is the only awards show where the choices are made by the professionals who see just about everything and report our reactions to readers. We aren’t part of the industry like the Oscars and the SAG Awards. We aren’t a tiny group of international journalists based in LA like the Golden Globes voters. We are the people who see everything and we review movies for a living because ticket-buyers want to know whether we think a movie is worth seeing.

And a movie doesn’t have to be a prestige film for us to love it. That’s why we now have this special show to honor popcorn movies, the movies that are just plain fun.

So the Critics Choice SUPER Awards honor the finest movies and series in the wildly popular but often under-appreciated Superhero/Comic Book, Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror and Animation genres. The inaugural Critics Choice SUPER Awards show makes its debut Sunday night on The CW Television Network (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT). It is hosted by Kevin Smith and Dani Fernandez and features a Special Legacy Award presented to the entire Star Trek Universe.

Every one of the 32 winners will appear on the show to accept their awards. There are also celebrity presenters galore and some of the most memorable packages of clips from the nominated movies, series and performances that you have ever seen.

Follow the Critics Choice Super Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards. Join the conversation using #CriticsChoice and #SuperAwards.