Thor: Ragnarock

Posted on November 2, 2017 at 10:14 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book fantasy peril and violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 3, 2017
Date Released to DVD: March 5, 2018

Copyright Disney 2017
New Zealand director Taika Waititi is exactly what Marvel/Disney needed, a true fanboy who loves superheroes because they are fun. Away with you, brooding and tortured comic book characters! What we want to see is a superhero who gets messed with, some colorful characters, a fascinatingly deranged villain, some thrilling action and slamming special effects, a surprise cameo, and, after a suitable series of setbacks, triumph. Plus some post-credit scenes. There’s all of that in this movie, plus some of the funniest moments on screen this year. It is irreverent, even cheeky. It has a sense of humor about itself while never, ever making fun of comic books or their fans.

Waititi, with a script by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, has taken one of the most serious of the Avengers, with only Chris Hemsworth’s imperishable charm keeping him just this side of wooden, and made use of his fellow antipodean’s true superpower, which is that he is a superb comic actor.

What does Thor have going for him? He has his dad, the king of the gods, Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins), his home, Asgard, his strength, his hair, his divinity, his confidence, and his hammer. He loses most of that pretty quickly, and stripped down Thor suddenly becomes a much more relatable character, more deserving of our support because he actually seems to need it. You might even say down to earth, except that earth does not really come into it this time.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Thor begins. “Oh, no, Thor is in a cage.” He’s not talking to us, and finding out who he is telling his story to is the first hint we get that we are operating in a slightly cracked universe. But then, reassuringly, Thor does his Thor thing and gets himself out of a big mess with endless panache.

And then things go wrong. The Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett) turns up to crush his hammer in her hands. She intends to take over Asgard and there does not seem to be anything he can do about it. He ends up on a planet that is essentially a junk pile, where he is discovered by scavengers. “Are you a fighter or are you food?” they ask him. Before they can gobble him up, he is captured by another scavenger (a terrific Tessa Thompson), who turns out to have a connection to Asgard. But she sells him to the Grandmaster (a glam Jeff Goldblum), who runs a lucrative gladiator show for galactic fans. Waiting to go to battle in the arena, Thor meets the movie’s most endearing character, a rock creature named Korg, played by Waititi himself. And then Thor sees his opponent in the battle to the death: his old Avenger buddy Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). We may love seeing the Avengers join together to take on the bad guys, but we love seeing them fight each other, too, and the Thor/Hulk fight is a smash. Literally.

Loki is there, too, I’m happy to say, and I only wish that someday he will have a movie of his own. Tom Hiddleston’s silky bad boy admits at one point that his loyalties shift moment to moment, and his mercurial impishness is perfectly calibrated. Despite her best efforts, Blanchett’s villain is not nearly as interesting as the other characters, and the resolution does not have the emotional weight that it does in the comics. But she barely diminishes the sheer fun of this film and I hope Marvel keeps Waititi on the roster for as many of these as he is willing to take on.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for TWO extra scenes!

Parents should know that this is a superhero movie with a lot of peril and action-style fantasy violence and some disturbing images, some alcohol, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What does Loki want? Which Avenger would you most like to be? What makes someone significant?

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

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A Bad Moms Christmas

Posted on November 2, 2017 at 6:00 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some drug use
Profanity: Very strong, explicit, and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drunkenness, substance abuse humor, drinking to deal with stress, drinking as a bonding experience, drugs,
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Mild racism portrayed as humorous
Date Released to Theaters: November 3, 2017
Date Released to DVD: February 5, 2018
Copyright 2017 STX

If you think these things are hilarious, then “A Bad Moms Christmas” is your movie:

1. A young child repeatedly saying the words that go with OMFG, which she explains she heard when her daddy and his girlfriend were yelling at each other in the bedroom, and the girlfriend punched through the wall and they did it seven times.

2. A character who works in a spa meets the man of her dreams when he asks her to wax his private parts, which he describes in detail, so he can participate in a “Sexy Santa” male stripper competition.

3. At the competition, one of the strippers is revealed to be overweight.

4. Three moms deal with holiday stress by getting drunk at the mall, grinding on Santa, and then stealing a Christmas tree decorated with sneakers from Footlocker.

5. A mother slams her teenage son in the crotch with a foam bat, just for fun.

6. An extended product placement for a trampoline-jumping party place.

I do not.

I didn’t like the first Bad Moms movie, either. Like the original, this is a slack and lazy script that pretends to be all “you go, girl” empowerment but in reality has contempt for its intended audience, clearly thinking we don’t know or won’t care that we are being insulted. The pressure women are under to be everything to everyone and the complicated relationships women have with their mothers and daughters is well worth exploring and well worth exploring via comedy. But the men who wrote this have no particular interest in exploring it. This is just a bunch of dumb scenes strung together with so few ideas that they have to throw in some truly excruciating product placement with an extended scene in a trampoline playground until it is blessedly time to go home. It is a real shame to waste the monumentally talented cast on this smug and silly story, including the criminally underused Jay Hernandez. It’s bad enough that his role in the film is “perfect boyfriend,” but the script inflicts some casual racism on him as well. A wealthy woman mistakes him for a bellhop, in the home of his girlfriend, not even a hotel! Oh, my aching sides!

Oh, and the trampoline playground people should get their money back because this movie makes it look like the most un-fun thing ever, except for maybe watching this movie.

In the first film, Amy, a harried newly single mother (Mila Kunis), Kiki, an overwhelmed stay at home mom (Kristen Bell), and Carla, a hard-partying pottymouth with a teenage son (Kathryn Hahn) join forces to oppose the impossible standards of perfection and the mean girl PTA President (Christina Applegate) who embodies them. In the sequel, they face two of any mother’s most high-pressure situations: Christmas and the arrival of their own mothers.

Amy’s mother is a demanding perfectionist who insists that the family attend the five-hour version of “The Nutcracker” in the original Russian and sing at 300 houses dressed as characters from “A Christmas Carol” (Amy as Scrooge) with a choir as back-up so they can win a caroling contest. Carla’s mother (Susan Sarandon) is a rock and roll party girl who calls herself Isis (“like the terrorist group,” she explains), constantly either high, “borrowing” money, scamming someone, or all three at once. And Kiki’s mother (Cheryl Hines) is somewhere between smothering, helicoptering, and Single White Female crazy stalking.

A bunch of random stuff and outrageous chaos happens before the heart-to-heart talks that belatedly sort everything out, including some sort of job interview that occurs late on Christmas eve for no other reason than that they want to tie things up and figure no one will notice, to say nothing of a complete personality change here and there. It isn’t that we expect realism from a broad comedy, but it is fair for us to expect that once we enter the movie’s world, its premises will remain consistent enough for us to enjoy the payoff. Instead, we get this, and a lump of coal in the stockings of all who were responsible.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely raunchy humor with many explicit and crude sexual references and some sexual situations and very strong language used by and in front of children. Characters drink and use drugs, and they drink to deal with stress and to bond with each other. There is comic violence and peril, but no one gets hurt, and there are conversations about death and divorce of parents and about poor parenting.

Family discussion: Who is responsible for the standards the moms felt they had to live up to? What should the moms have said to their mothers? Why didn’t they say it?

If you like this, try: “Bridesmaids”

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Interview: Rob Reiner on “LBJ”

Posted on November 1, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Rob Reiner’s new movie, “LBJ,” stars Woody Harrelson as Lyndon Johnson, focusing on the months between the tragedy of the 1963 Kennedy assassination, which catapulted him into the Presidency, and the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964. The film opens in theaters November 3, 2017 and it is an illuminating and warmly human portrayal of a complicated man who was a genuine leader. In an interview, Reiner talked about how his own views of President Johnson have changed since the 1960’s and how he was able to bring about one of the most powerful pieces of legislation in history.

Copyright Nell Minow 2017

It’s an unexpectedly gentle portrayal of a President who was a polarizing figure when he was in office.

It’s an odd film for me to be making because I hated LBJ during the 60’s. I was of draft age and I was against the war, I marched in protests. So I hated him.

It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time in politics, I grew up, I actually had a government job in California for seven years and then I got to understand what LBJ was able to accomplish. He was like a tale of two Presidencies. He was probably except for FDR the most successful domestic legislative president of all time and had it not been for Vietnam he would have gone down as one of the one of the great Presidents of all time.

So I wanted to look at this man and see what else there was about him that we didn’t already know because the image that we always had besides the fact that we didn’t like him because of Vietnam was this kind of bully, a bull in the china shop, arm-twisting crude guy showing his scar, picking the beagle up by the ears; was there more to this guy?

In doing the research aside from reading the Robert Caro books, in reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, it became very clear that there was definitely another side to this guy. There were two things that I teased out of that book. One is that he had this recurring nightmare of being paralyzed and the other was that he had a fear that his mother didn’t love him or at least conditionally loved him and only loved him when he was doing what she wanted him to do.

So it made for somebody who had serious doubts about himself; fears of not being loved, insecurity. If we can get that across, whatever his political legacy is we’ll at least capture who this guy is.

We decided to use a very small sliver of time which is to take it from Kennedy’s landing at Love Field in Dallas to Johnson delivering the speech about the Civil Rights Bill in front of the joint session of Congress. In that time Johnson has to assume the Presidency. That’s a pressure point that will bring out who this guy really is and we see it. He is paralyzed at first but then he’s able to move forward.

Was Kennedy’s death significant in pushing the Civil Rights Act to the top of the legislative agenda?

Many people think that. There were reporters at the time that were on the floor that worked on Capitol Hill who said that there was no chance that bill was getting out of Committee; it was locked up in committee. As we point out in the film, Richard Russell who was the head of the Southern caucus, the Democratic caucus in the South said, “I’ll stop this thing, I’ll make it so that it never reaches the floor.” But as events happened, the fact that Kennedy was assassinated which was horrible and made the country mourn and made us all so upset it also provided a legislative path forward. And Johnson was able to understand it because he had a consummate knowledge of how to move policy forward. He said, “You never underestimate the power of a martyr’s cause.”

He knew at that point he could move it forward and even then it was touch-and-go because he knew he was going to lose the Southern Democrats. He said, “We’re going to lose them for a generation,” and it’s been way more than a generation. It’s been over fifty years and the South is still controlled by the Republicans because of that Civil Rights Act, so he paid an enormous price politically to do that. He thought it was worth it.

Was he a true believer in the cause of civil rights?

Yes, but his belief was hidden by the fact that he had to say what was necessary to keep his seat. He never viewed himself as a Southerner, he viewed himself as a Texan and as a Westerner; he came from the West Hills section of Texas. He was raised in poverty, he understood it, that was the cornerstone of his Great Society and the War on Poverty. He taught in impoverished schools so he understood that, but it was buried and submerged for a long, long time until he saw the opportunity to let it come forward. There’s Head Start, there’s Medicare, there’s Medicaid and there is the Voting Rights Act; all of these things that he in a very short period of time.

As you show in the film, he was famously crude. Was he clueless or was that an intimidation tactic?

I think it was part intimidation but also part of the way he was. He was a very down home kind of guy. He was not a sophisticated guy and that’s one of the things that frightened him so much because he saw the Kennedys as being upper crust, Eastern, from great schools, loved, handsome, beautiful, and articulate. He thought they were show horses and he was a work horse. That’s who he was but he also knew how to show power and how to execute power.

Originally published on HuffPost

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