The Croods: A New Age

Posted on November 23, 2020 at 2:06 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for peril, action, and rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style peril, minor injuries
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 25, 2020

Copyright Dreamworks 2020
The sequel to the animated film about the prehistoric family is sharply funny, exciting, warm-hearted, and a great watch for the whole family (though I’m recommending you wait for the streaming release on Christmas and not risk it in theaters).

We left the Croods at the end of the first film with Grug (Nicolas Cage) finally welcoming in a new family member, Guy (Ryan Reynolds). The family, which sleeps in a pile every night and can form a kill circle in an instant is, Grug thinks, situated as well as possible to find food and to avoid becoming food. But then the climate changes and they have to find another place to live. On the other side of a wall, they discover a kind of paradise, with plenty of food conveniently growing in rows. It is the home of the Betterman family (“emphasis on the Better“), Hope (Leslie Mann), Phil (Peter Dinklage), and their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran).

The Bettermans, who have discovered tools and simple machines, have an elaborate tree-house, cultivated crops, and the wall, which keeps them safe. They have the concept of “privacy,” sleeping in separate rooms. They also have the concept of “rooms.” Also “windows,” and an amusing running joke is the way Grug’s son Thunk (Clark Duke) is mesmerized by the “screen” that’s just a hole in the wall.

The Bettermans are aghast at the lack of refinement of the primitive Croods and gently try to urge them to move on. Except for Guy, who they knew when he was a child. Guy is happy to be reunited with them, especially his childhood friend Dawn. He starts dressing like Phil Betterman.

We might expect Grug’s daughter Eep (Emma Stone) to be jealous of Dawn. But this movie wisely makes Eep and Dawn instant best friends in a funny and sweet scene where they discover what it means to know another girl. It also wisely does not make the Bettermans or the Croods all right or all wrong. Balancing the wish to protect your children from any possible harm with the importance of their learning to be independent and developing a sense of curiosity and adventure.

Basically, there are just two jokes here, but they are funny every time. It is funny when we see that the Croods are just like us (parents want to take care of children and children want to try new things, teenagers have a lot to say to each other but do not always have the words, girlfriends’ voices sometimes get a little screechy when they’re excited), and it is funny to see them discover for the first time in human history what we take for granted (privacy, screens). But what makes this movie worth a rewatch is the constant invention of its visuals, the exceptional detail in the characters, animals, and landscapes, its superb voice talent, and its touching depiction of the foundational ties of family and community.

Parents should know that this film includes some peril and mild injuries and some potty humor.

Family discussion: Is your family more like the Croods or The Bettermans? Ask family members for the stories behind their scars.

If you like this, try: “The Croods,” and the “Ice Age” movies and my interview with this film’s director, Joel Crawford.

Related Tags:

 

Animation Family Issues movie review Movies Movies Series/Sequel

Sound of Metal

Posted on November 19, 2020 at 5:31 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug addiction
Violence/ Scariness: Some graphic images of an operation
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 20, 2020

Copyright Amazon 2020
We’re going to have to come up with a better term than POV to describe “Sound of Metal,” the story of a drummer who loses his hearing. POV describes a subjective portrayal, where we see just what the character sees instead of what an outsider can see. But “see” is the operative word. Much of “Sound of Metal” is subjective, so that we hear only what Ruben (brilliantly played by Riz Ahmed) is hearing. Many of the sounds are muted or distorted. Some of the movie is in silence. Sometimes we get a brief chance to hear what he cannot. There are subtitles in some moments but not in others so we can experience Ruben’s sense of confusion and isolation.

This is a remarkably assured debut from co-writer/director Darius Marder and his co-writer/composer/brother Abraham Marder. In an interview with me and a small group of other journalists, Darius Marder said making music the center of Ruben’s life was appealing because music connects people and because hearing loss is both a personal and professionally devastating for a musician. But he also said that music serves as a metaphor for relationships. We all have our own place within a relationship,” Darius said. “I play the drums and you play guitar and together we make this music. But what are we if we start pulling those sounds apart? If you leave, what is left? Abraham and I were both inspired by the concept of using this two-person band as a metaphor for a relationship. Even though it is steeped in a very specific music world, the intention was for it to be universal in
feeling.”

The Marders trust the audience to lean in to the film, to not need to have every detail explained in advance. So we gradually learn that Ruben is a former heroin addict, who has been clean for four years with the support of his girlfriend and bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke) and his utter devotion to music. We can see from the performance that leads off the film that Ruben gives everything he has to the raw emotion of the punk/metal music he and Lou play.

And then, suddenly, he hears a pop and then sounds are muffled and distorted. A doctor tells him it may be a result of the heroin use and that it isn’t coming back.

It’s just like the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages for impending death. The first stage is denial. Ruben plays another gig. He is sure he can fix this. But he can’t. Lou takes him to a rehab program for addicts with hearing loss led by Joe (played by Paul Raci, the son of Deaf parents). The program is attached to a school for Deaf children and at first Ruben is put in class with them to learn to sign.

The Marders show us in an understated way that Ruben’s addictive personality has just transferred from drugs to music and Lou. Away from both, he is lost. He learns to sign and begins to be a part of the new community but he is determined to get back what he lost, at any cost.

Ahmed, Cooke, and Raci all give understated, natural performances that draw us into the story even more than the immersive sound design. Much of Ahmed’s performance is in his deep, expressive eyes, making Ruben one of the most memorable characters on screen this year.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language and discussion of substance abuse. There are some graphic images in a scene of an operation.

Family discussion: What will Ruben do next? Did he make the right decision about the operation? Why does Joe insist that Deaf people do not need to be “fixed?”

If you like this, try: “One Trick Pony”

Related Tags:

 

Disabilities and Different Abilities Drama movie review Movies Movies

Critics Choice Documentary Awards 2020

Posted on November 18, 2020 at 10:59 am

This has been a great year for documentaries and it was very hard to decide on my ballot for the Critics Choice Awards. I salute all of this year’s nominees and awardees.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)

BEST DIRECTOR
Kirsten Johnson, “Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)

BEST FIRST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Melissa Haizlip, “Mr. SOUL!” (Shoes in the Bed Productions)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Roger Horrocks, “My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)

BEST EDITING
Lindy Jankura, Alexis Johnson and Alex Keipper, “Totally Under Control” (Neon)

BEST SCORE
Marco Beltrami, Brandon Roberts and Buck Sanders, “The Way I See It” (Focus Features)

BEST NARRATION
“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet”(Netflix)

David Attenborough, Narrator
David Attenborough, Writer

BEST ARCHIVAL DOCUMENTARY
“MLK/FBI” (Field of Vision/IFC Films)

BEST HISTORICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL DOCUMENTARY
“John Lewis: Good Trouble” (Magnolia Pictures/Participant)

BEST MUSIC DOCUMENTARY (TIE)
“Beastie Boys Story” (Apple)
“The Go-Go’s” (Showtime)

BEST POLITICAL DOCUMENTARY
“Boys State” (Apple)

BEST SCIENCE/NATURE DOCUMENTARY
“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)

BEST SPORTS DOCUMENTARY (TIE)
“Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes” (HBO)
“Athlete A” (Netflix)

BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY
“St. Louis Superman” (MTV Documentary Films)
(Directors and Producers: Sami Khan and Smriti Mundhra. Producer: Poh Si Teng)

MOST COMPELLING LIVING SUBJECTS OF A DOCUMENTARY (HONOR)
Dr. Rick Bright – “Totally Under Control” (Neon)
Steven Garza – “Boys State” (Apple)
The Go-Go’s – “The Go-Go’s” (Showtime)
Judith Heumann – “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” (Netflix)
Dick Johnson – “Dick Johnson is Dead” (Netflix)
Maggie Nichols, Rachael Denhollander, Jamie Dantzscher – “Athlete A” (Netflix)
Fox Rich – “Time” (Amazon)
Pete Souza – “The Way I See It” (Focus Features)
Taylor Swift – “Miss Americana” (Netflix)
Greta Thunberg – “I Am Greta” (Hulu)

Related Tags:

 

Awards Documentary

Freaky

Posted on November 12, 2020 at 5:51 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking, mother abuses alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Constant very intense and graphic horror violence, many grisly murders, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 13, 2020
Copyright Blumhouse 2020

If you read my reviews, you know I usually skip the horror movies. So, forgive me if my thoughts on “Freaky” reflect my ignorance. But I was intrigued by the premise of a large male serial killer switching bodies with a blonde teenage girl. And I like the cast, so I watched it, and it’s pretty fun.

But I don’t know enough about horror films to tell you whether the pedestrian set-up and stock characters are just a shortcut because the filmmakers don’t care — and know the audience doesn’t care — and everyone just wants to get to the good stuff, or because they are making some sort of meta-commentary on the whole idea and genre of teen slasher movies. Maybe both. Probably it does not matter. So, let’s just get to the good stuff.

Certainly, the movie wastes no time in getting there. It begins, as all good self-aware teen slasher movies should, with teens in a luxurious but still somehow creepy setting, outside a mansion, trading stories about a legendary serial killer known as the Blissfield Butcher. Some say he’s just a legend. Some say he re-appears every year. We have just enough time to see how arrogant and obnoxious these overprivileged kids are (that’s how we feel better about their horrific murders, right?) before the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) arrives, killing them in various creative but grisly and very bloody ways.

Then we meet Milly (Kathryn Newton of “Big Little Lies”), who lives with her recently widowed and therefore vulnerable and clingy mother and her older sister, a police officer. Milly is in high school. She has two devoted best friends, Josh (Misha Osherovich) and Nyla Celeste O’Connor. But she also has bullies, including tiny but fierce mean girl Ryler (Melissa Collazo), some guys, and her shop class teacher (Alan Ruck, yes, Cameron in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”).

After the homecoming football game (which does not get cancelled even though a group of students have all been horribly murdered, but okay), Milly is left alone waiting for her mother to pick her up. The Butcher attacks her with a mysterious knife he stole from the mansion. And it turns out to have magical powers or a curse or whatever. When the Butcher stabs Milly, their bodies switch. And, as they will later find out, if they don’t switch back by midnight the next day, they’ll be stuck that way.

This is where everyone starts to have some fun. Vaughn is a hoot trying to persuade Nyla and Josh that it is really Milly inside that 6’5″ middle-aged male body. And Newton has a blast with her new bad self inside the body of a high school girl. Milly is not able to muster the courage to stand up to her shop class teacher or the bullies or to talk to her crush, Booker (Uriah Shelton), but Milly on the outside, Butcher on the inside usually does. Let’s just say that there’s a reason it’s the SHOP class teacher who has been so mean to her.

And of course it all ends up at a big teen party.

In between all of the murders and mayhem, there is room for some sly humor and some genuine warmth as Milly-in-the-Butcher’s-Body hides out in a discount store dressing room and talks to her mom on the other side of the door, and some romance as she and Booker have a quiet, very sweet conversation in a car. There’s a vicarious thrill at seeing the Butcher-in-Milly’s-body stand up (even if it is in a murderous manner) to the people who treated Milly badly.

I’m still not a horror fan, but I enjoyed this one, and if you are a horror fan I’m pretty sure you will, too.

Parents should know this is a full-on horror movie with many disturbing images and grisly murders. Characters use strong language and there are references to sex (some crude) and to alcohol abuse.

Family discussion: What did Milly learn about her mother in the dressing room? How would you convince someone that you were you if you suddenly looked completely different?

If you like this, try: “Jennifer’s Body” and “Shawn of the Dead”

Related Tags:

 

Fantasy High School Horror movie review Movies Movies Stories about Teens

Hillbilly Elegy

Posted on November 11, 2020 at 10:00 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some violence, language throughout, and drug content
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug abuse, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Domestic violence and family dysfunction
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie is economic diversity
Date Released to Theaters: November 13, 2020

Copyright 2020 Netflix
“Hillbilly Elegy” had just one job: to give us a sympathetic and relatable portrait of people we might dismiss as “rednecks” and, well, hillbillies, without being superficial or condescending. It fails, with a portrait of one dysfunctional Ohio family with roots in the Kentucky hill country that never knows what story it is trying to tell. It is closer to an episode of Jerry Springer than it is to an insightful portrait of the obstacles to opportunity that prevent people, with rare exceptions like Vance, to keep from repeating the same mistakes. (For genuine and meticulously researched understanding, try White Trash by Nancy Isenberg.)

The film is based on the best-selling memoir/anthropological study by J.D. Vance. The timing contributed to its success because it was thought to explain to book-buying, educated, urban voters the perspective of those who supported the election of a failed businessman turned reality TV star in 2016, including policies that seemed to be contrary to their own interests. As we see in this movie, that is consistent with personal choices that are devastating to their own interests, and the interests of the next generations.

The movie arrives at a different time. The resentful rural voters are no longer as exotic or unknown, and they have less political power. Nevertheless, as Democratic voters are still being urged to have empathy for the other side, to the extent there is curiosity about these communities, this is not a movie that is going to provide any enlightenment. It is most telling that it spends much too much time on the blandest and least interesting of the characters, the one based on the author of the book. And so it becomes about his struggle to accept and forgive his family and their history instead of being about them, their lives, their challenges, their choices.

We go back and forth in time with Vance, from the idyllic summers with his Kentucky “hillbilly” relatives to his life with an intelligent but overwhelmed single mother (Amy Adams as Beverly), who makes one catastrophically bad choice after another, and with his tough grandmother Mamaw (Glenn Close), who left home, pregnant, at age 13 and scrabbled a life for herself and her family.

J.D. (Owen Asztalos as a young teenager) tells us the summers in Kentucky were his happiest times, but as we see him with his cousins, we may wonder why. He finds a turtle with a wounded shell and wants to heal it, while his cousins tell him to tear off the shell or throw the turtle. J.D. explains that the turtle’s ribcage is connected to the carapace, which leads them to beat him up, which leads to everyone piling on. It might be worth exploring why there is so much suspicion of knowledge and institutions, why members of this family are unable to consider that the institutions that provide opportunities for economic stability and advancement, as imperfect as they are, may be a more reliable path. That they do not think it within the range of possibilities is rooted in innumerable factors and failures well worth exploring or even portraying, but this movie never tries. All it has to say is that these people think family comes first when it comes to faking drug test results or lying to the police but not so much when it comes to providing guidance, support, consistency, or a good example.

The shifts in time are more distracting than revealing. J.D. (now played by an expressionless Gabriel Basso) is a student at Yale Law School, after serving in the Marines and attending Ohio State. He is interviewing for summer jobs at tony law firms, essential to get the money he needs to pay the tuition for his final year of school. But he feels at a disadvantage compared to his Ivy League classmates, who have social ease. He has to make an emergency call to his girlfriend (Frieda Pinto in the thankless role of beautiful, endlessly patient and understanding support system) to ask which fork to use. This is not only an unforgivable cliche; it gives us no reason to feel sympathetic. A Marine Yale Law student is more than able to look that up before a fancy dinner or just watch what the host does.

J.D. gets an emergency call. His mother is in the hospital. She overdosed. On heroin.

He drives all night to get to Ohio. And we see incidents from the past as Bev struggles with drug abuse (once asking J.D. to pee into a cup to use for her drug test, another time impulsively marrying her supervisor and moving J.D. into his house, getting fired from her nursing job for taking a patient’s medication. If we learn anything it is that having an adult who is committed to keeping a child on the straight and narrow makes a difference. But why there was only one in this child’s life, why his sister seemed to do okay without going to live with Mamaw, and why Mamaw was able to learn from mistakes is all glossed over.

Even Amy Adams and Glenn Close are unable to make this work. They yell at each other with colorful countrified expletives (Close actually has to say at one point, “Kiss my ruby red asshole!”) sounding more like the caricatures on “Mama’s Family” than human beings with vulnerabilities and intimate connections. As we see home movies of the real characters over the credits, our only conclusion is that the filmmakers spent more time getting the outside right than the inside. The members of this community deserve better from the haves in our society, but they deserve better from this movie, too.

Parents should know that this movie includes extensive family dysfunction, substance abuse, and domestic abuse as well as constant strong language. Family members and teenagers use drugs. Domestic violence includes punching, dangerous driving, negligence, and setting a husband on fire.

Family discussion: Why was J.D. able to make a different life for himself? Should he have stayed with his mother when Mamaw wanted to take him? When he left for the interview?

If you like this, try: “White Oleander” and White Trash

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Based on a true story Family Issues movie review Movies Movies
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2020, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik