Olympic Dreams

Posted on February 13, 2020 at 5:28 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual references
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 14, 2020
Copyright IFC Films 2019

“Olympic Dreams” is a slight but sweet story set inside a big, colorful, dramatic world, the Olympics. It is the only movie ever filmed inside the actual Winter Olympic Athletes Village, and the behind the scenes settings and encounters are a lot of fun to see, giving us an idea of the vast scope and international culture of the games. Alexi Pappas, who represented Greece in the 2016 summer Olympics 10,000 meter race, co-wrote and stars in the film with her co-star, Nick Kroll, and the director (and her husband), Jeremey Teicher.

Pappas plays Penelope (a tribute to her Greek heritage), an American cross-country skier whose event is on the first day, so once it is over, she does not really have anything else to do. Kroll plays Ezra, a dentist who has volunteered to be on the medical team at the Games. There are not a lot of dental issues, so he, too, has a lot of free time. Much of the movie is just the two of them at various places in the Olympic Village, having awkward conversations. Her side is awkward because she has done nothing but prepare for the Olympics her whole life and has not had much opportunity to have non-sports competition related interactions. His side is awkward because he is an awkward guy, trying to re-connect with his ex long-distance and generally anxious.

So, kind of like “Before Sunrise” if the two people involved were older, less open, and not as good at putting their feelings into words. Much of the film has a gentle, improvisational tone that is appealing, and Kroll in particular shows his range. Pappas is not as experienced an actor, and her director/husband lingers longer on her face than a non-husband might have chosen to do. Real Olympian Gus Kenworthy is a natural in a small role as a sympathetic athlete, and it would be great to see him do more films. The bittersweet romance does not have much depth, but the novelty and natural interest of the setting and the small incidental details provide enough interest to make up for it.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and sexual references.

Family discussion: What will Alex do next? How did she make Ezra think differently about his options?

If you like this, try: “Before Sunrise” and “Medium Cool” (which also used a real-life setting, the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, as background to a fictional story).

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movie review Movies Movies Romance

The Photograph

Posted on February 13, 2020 at 5:22 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexuality and brief strong language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Sad deaths of parents
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 14, 2020
Date Released to DVD: May 11, 2020
Copyright 2019 Universal

Of all the reasons to see a movie, there is none better than this: two gorgeous, immeasurably magnetic and talented actors falling in love on screen. And so, the universe (and Universal) have given us a luscious valentine of a movie, Issa Rae and Lakieth Stanfield starring in “The Photograph,” the kind of romantic drama audiences keep complaining they don’t make any more. From the steamy moments with a storm outside the window to an Al Green LP to flirtatious banter about the relative merits of Kendrick Lamar and Drake, the swoony romanticism is captivating all the way to the last moment.

Rae (who also co-produced) plays Mae, an art curator mourning the recent death of her mother, Cristina (Chanté Adams), a talented photographer who was, as she describes herself in a video interview, better at taking pictures than at love. Rae is sorting through her mother’s things, assembling a retrospective exhibit of her work. And she is sorting through her feelings about her mother, already complicated, with additional complications coming from a letter to “my Mae” she left behind. Cynthia’s instructions were for Mae to read the letter before delivering a second sealed letter to her father.

Stanfield, always a most thoughtful and charismatic actor, plays Michael, a reporter who happens on Cristina’s photos when he interviews a man who knew her before she left him and her home in Louisiana for a career in New York. He meets Mae when he is researching a story about Cynthia’s life. Stanfield played the break-up boyfriend in the popular Netflix films “Someone Great” and “The Incredible Jessica James,” (along with memorable appearances in “Short Term 12,” “Atlanta,” and “Sorry to Bother You””). He gets to be the romantic lead here, and his performance beautifully conveys his character’s confidence and vulnerability, and his immediate connection to Mae.

Both Mae and Michael are hurting from recent break-ups. And Michael has applied for a job in London, so that makes it difficult to start a new relationship in New York. But as always, the real obstacle to romance is the struggle between the yearning for intimacy, for truly knowing and being known, and the fear of exactly that. It may be lonely to be single, but it is safe, or it feels that way. “I’m comfortable” being unhappy and jaded, one of them says.

We go back in time from the present-day story of Mae and Michael to see the story of young Cristina and Isaac (Rob Morgan in present day, Y’lan Noel of “Insecure” in the past). They have a strong connection, but he is rooted in Louisiana and she has ambitions that can only be realized in New York. We see Cynthia’s conflicted relationship with her own mother (a terrific Marsha Stephanie Blake). We see her resolve, even after her heart is broken when she learns she cannot expect Isaac to wait for her forever.

But the heart of the film is the romance between Mae and Michael, with a suitably gorgeous score by Robert Glasper and lush cinematography by Mark Schwartzbard. I have complained in the past about the failure to light the skin of black performers correctly, especially when there are white performers in the same scene. Schwartzbard lights them beautifully, bringing out all of the rich, golden tones of their skin. Interestingly, most of the photos taken by Cynthia that we see are black and white, striking images, but all in shades of gray. We’re told she hated having her own picture taken, but we see one, taken by Isaac, tellingly a bit out of focus. And we see her take one self-portrait, holding then-four-year-old Mae in the Louisiana house she shared with her own mother. But we never see the image. Instead, we see them ourselves, through Schwartzbard’s beautiful cinematography.

Lil Rel Howery provides (as usual) some warm humor as Michael’s brother, with the always-wonderful Teyonah Parris as his wife, and up and coming star Kelvin Harrison Jr. is excellent in a small role as an intern in Michael’s office. Along with Chelsea Peretti as Michael’s boss and Courtney B. Vance as her sympathetic father, the cast gives the central characters the context of a larger world, where we see them as real people of accomplishment and confidence who have to learn how that fits with the vulnerability of allowing themselves to need and be needed in a romantic relationship.

“The Photograph” is a beautiful story, beautifully told, filled with heart and wise about love.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and a situation, issues of paternity, sad deaths of parents, drinking, and brief strong language.

Family discussion: Why couldn’t Christine tell her daughter the truth? What would you ask someone to get an idea of who they are?

If you like this, try: “Beyond the Lights,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “Love Jones,” and “Something New”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues movie review Movies Romance

Google Helps You Find Iconic Movie Locations — Re-enacting Is Up To You!

Posted on February 9, 2020 at 8:52 am

I live near some of the most iconic locations in the movies (though of course many movie versions of the White House and monuments are re-created in Hollywood). Tourists love to visit the Exorcist steps.

And they there’s this scene at the Lincoln Memorial in “Forrest Gump.”

Harry Medved has a great book about movie locations in Southern California. What movie locations have you visited?

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Posted on February 6, 2020 at 5:20 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Brief drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very graphic peril and violence, characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 7, 2020
Date Released to DVD: May 11, 2020
Copyright Warner Brothers 2020

At last, the sisters are doing it for themselves, on screen and off. “Birds of Prey (and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson (“Bumblebee”), it has the ladies of the DC universe band together when the guys (Batman and Joker) are (literally) out of the picture.

We all know that when you’ve been dumped, you’ll need some recovery time, and if that involves Cheez-Whiz straight from the can, we won’t judge. You’ll need to adjust your social media settings, too. In the case of Harley Quinn (co-producer Margot Robbie), that can mean blowing up what used to be your special place. As an observer notes, that’s how “she just publicly updated her relationship status.”

Unfortunately, in the case of Harley Quinn, whose relationship with impulse control has been even more volatile than her relationship with the madman she calls Mr. J, has made many, many enemies, helpfully identified by name and grievance on screen so we can keep up. Without Mr. J as protector, it’s olly olly oxen free for anyone who wants revenge.

As Harley causes even more trouble and tries to hide or protect herself from those coming after her, she comes across the sole survivor of a mob family who is now an assassin dedicated to killing every man responsible for her family’s murders. She is still figuring out a name and a purpose once her targets have all been wiped out but one thing she has completely figured out is the crossbow. She will be known as The Huntress, and she is played by the always-terrific Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) is a chanteuse in a club run by mobster Roman Sonasis (Ewan McGregor) with his henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). When Roman learns that she has some mad fighting skills, he makes her his driver.

There is the young girl thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who picks the wrong pocket. Trying to get to the bottom of all of this is a tough cop named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) who is too honest to get promoted. Over the course of the film, the female characters will not always be on the same side. Some even betray each other. But when a girl needs a hair tie (in the middle of a big fight scene in a super-creepy abandoned amusement park beyond the wildest nightmares of Scooby-Doo, well, sisterhood is powerful.

Perhaps not as fun as it wants to be, but the movie has high spirits and a refreshing perspective that goes a bit deeper than just grrrl power. The carnage (with disturbing images and sounds) is intense and Harley does not always find the sweet spot between deranged creepy and deranged endearing. Deadpool may be nutty and naughty, but he is true-hearted, an anti-hero who is more hero than anti. As mesmerizing as Robbie is in the role, the storyline might have worked better with one of the other characters as the lead. It’s fantabulous that she is emancipated, but now she has to decide who she wants to be.

Parents should know that this film includes constant and very graphic peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed, disturbing sounds and images, knives, crossbow, guns, explosives, chases, very strong and crude language, nude images, brief drug humor, and some potty humor.

Family discussion: How did the early experiences of Harley and Huntress affect the way they made decisions? How is this like and different from other superhero movies?

If you like this, try: “Deadpool” and the “Birds of Prey” television series

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Hair Love

Posted on February 4, 2020 at 3:49 pm

Copyright Sony 2019

My choice for the best Animated Short Oscar is Hair Love.

There’s a great story about how this film got made in today’s Washington Post. The story behind the scenes deserves an award and maybe a movie of its own. An excerpt:

In 2017, Matthew A. Cherry created a Kickstarter campaign in the hopes of funding an animated short film about a young black father who learns how to do his daughter’s hair. Cherry had been thinking about the project, dubbed “Hair Love,” for several years but was inspired to make it happen after seeing a flood of Internet videos featuring black fathers gingerly tackling the unruly tresses of their daughters.

Three years later, Cherry has an Oscar nomination for his vision, which audiences first saw in theaters ahead of “The Angry Birds Movie 2.” In just under seven minutes, “Hair Love” follows Zuri, a 7-year-old with a lively mop of kinky curls, who wakes up on a special day and tries to do her hair with the help of a video made by her mother, a natural-hair vlogger (voiced by Issa Rae, the creator and star of HBO’s “Insecure”).

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Animation Race and Diversity
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