New York Times critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott have listed their favorite films of the 21st century so far, with some help from filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow, Guillermo del Toro, Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, Richard Linklater, Robert Pattinson and Michelle Williams. Like any such list/ranking, it is best seen as a conversation-starter and Netflix-queue refresher rather than any kind of canon. Their list includes my favorite film of the 21st century (so far), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but also one of my least favorites, “Million Dollar Baby.” I was glad to see “Inside Out” on the list, and “Inside Llewyn Davis” and the underrated Steven Spielberg film, “Munich.” (And got a kick out of their admitted split over “A.I.” which provokes very mixed feelings in me.) As always from these critics, it is fun to read and think about because of its thoughtful assessments, a rare chance for critics to take a more distanced look at some of their favorites.
Rated PG-13 for violence, action and scary images, and for some suggestive content and partial nudity
Some mild language
Extended wartime and fantasy violence, chases, explosions, attacks, guns, knives, murder of parent and child, plane crash, characters injured and killed
Date Released to Theaters:
June 9, 2017
Date Released to DVD:
September 18, 2017
Disney has almost all of the Marvel superheroes. Warner Brothers has DC superheroes. 20th Century Fox has the Fantastic Four and perhaps someday will make a movie worthy of them. And so Universal wanted its own universe of supernatural characters. It does not have the rights to any superheroes, but it does have the monsters, including Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein’s monsters, Wolfman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Mummy.
This film is the first in a planned series of high profile, high-budget, interlocking stories featuring big stars, big stunts, and big special effects, set in what Universal has dubbed The Dark Universe. So, get ready for an Avengers/Justice League-style series of partnerships, cross-overs, and mash-ups.
We begin with “The Mummy,” possibly because the dashing Brendan Fraser updates starting in 1999 have made the story more familiar to 21st century audiences. Of course, those films were inspired by the Boris Karloff classic. This reboot retains very little from either beyond the idea of a deadly mummy from ancient Egypt.
This mummy is female. Her name is Ahmanet and she is played with feral ferocity by the very limber Sofia Boutella of “Star Trek: Beyond.” She was once in line to become ruler of the kingdom of ancient Egypt and be worshipped as a god. But when her father had a son, he became heir to the throne. Enraged, she murdered her father and the boy and his mother and traded her soul for power of life and death. She could not die, but she could be stopped with an elaborate mercury solution, and so she had been in a tomb in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) for thousands of years until American soldier and tomb raider Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his quippy sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson) come along to release her and her curse on the world.
With them is beautiful blond archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis of “Peaky Blinders”), along for exposition, retro rescuing, and some tiresome banter about a one-night stand with Nick.
Russell Crowe shows up as well, as a doctor who is obsessed with evil, though whether for it or against it is not entirely clear. To say more would be to spoil one of the film’s best ideas.
The real stars of the film are the stunts and special effects, which are great. Adrenalin junkie Cruise clearly has a blast racing ahead of, well, blasts, in the battle scenes, and, later, zombies as well. A plane crash scene is viscerally exciting, and sets up the movie’s funniest line later on. But it cannot make its mind up whether it wants to be a high-concept adventure, a horror movie, or a campy comedy (zombie Jake Johnson continues to be quippy).
And Cruise is simply miscast. He is too old for the part of yet another of his callow cases of endearing arrested development. It is one thing for a guy in his 20’s to joke about a one-night stand; it is uncomfortably skeevy for a guy, however handsome and eternally young (and still able to run very fast) in his 50’s. By the time we see where this character is going in the movie’s final scenes, it is clear that this should have been the first act, not the last, and that this Dark Universe thing is going to be a long slog indeed.
Parents should know that this film includes extended fantasy/mythological violence and peril, undead, military weapons and explosions, plane crash, some graphic and disturbing images, characters injured and killed, some nudity and sexual references and insults
Family discussion: Was Nick telling the truth about the parachute? What made him change his mind about Jenny?
If you like this, try: the earlier “Mummy” movies with Brendan Fraser and Boris Karloff
Rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements
Some strong language
Drinking and drunkenness, drug references
Date Released to Theaters:
June 9, 2017
Date Released to DVD:
September 11, 2017
Devastated by the loss of a close friend, fired from a dead-end job, without any sense of worth or meaning, a young rural New Yorker enlists in the Marines and learns about honor, loyalty, and purpose, and finds unconditional love, too.
What makes that familiar story less familiar in this fact-based retelling is that the Marine in question is a woman and the love story is with her partner, a German Shepard.
Kate Mara is both vulnerable and determined as Megan Leavey, who was lost until she joined the Marines and got assigned to the K-9 division of military dogs trained to sniff out bombs and guns. Leavey had two tours of duty alongside Rex until they were blown up together by a bomb. The most significant part of her recovery came from a renewed sense of purpose in fighting for the chance to give Rex a home when he could no longer work.
The film, which has some dramatic (and romantic) heightening, shows Leavey being fired by a supervisor who tells her, “You don’t connect with people very well.” Her mother (Edie Falco, terrific as always) does not want her to go into the military but has nothing else to offer. After basic training, she gets drunk with friends and is sentenced to clean up the dog kennels. That is the moment when a part of her wakes up. Instead of resisting what she does not want, for the first time there is something she does want.
The Leavey equivalent in the K-9 corps is Rex, a handsome German shepherd described by the veterinarian as “the most aggressive dog I’ve ever treated.” The woman who does not connect with people very well is a perfect match for the dog who does not connect with people very well, either.
Leavey wants to become a part of the K-9 program, but in order to qualify she has to meet some very tough standards for her skills and behavior. She makes it in and the training includes learning how to bandage a wounded dog, a powerful reminder of the risks ahead.
The story has four distinct chapters: Leavey before the Marines, her training and getting to know Rex, their deployment, and her efforts to bring him home so she can care for him in his last months. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and star Mara wisely keep the focus on Leavey’s spirit-enlarging journey. Cowperthwaite is a documentarian (“Blackfish”) and brings a low-key naturalism to the storytelling, and Mara is excellent in revealing Leavey’s growing sense of confidence and purpose. “We were injured in Iraq,” she says, simply, compellingly. They are both wounded warriors and their best path to healing is to be together.
Parents should know that this film includes wartime violence with guns, bombs, explosions, characters injured and killed, drinking and drunkenness, strong language, sexual references and a non-explicit situation.
Family discussion: What was it about the dog corps that made Megan want to qualify to be a part of it? Why did Gunny give her a chance?