Cyrano

Posted on January 31, 2022 at 6:48 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some strong violence, thematic and suggestive material, and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Sword fights and battles, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, but transphobic humor
Date Released to Theaters: February 4, 2022
Date Released to DVD: April 18, 2022

Copyright 2021 MGM
Cyrano” is a gorgeous film, a true labor of love. The basis, of course, is one of the great classic plays of all time, Edmond Rostand’s 1897 Cyrano de Bergerac, inspired by a real soldier/writer. Jose Ferrar won an Oscar for his performance as the title character in a 1950 film. The story of the man who cannot tell the woman he loves how he feels because of the way he looks has been adapted and rebooted many times, with probably the best known Steve Martin’s Roxanne and most recently set in a high school in “The Half of It.” Everyone can identify with a character who is afraid to approach the object of their affection and everyone would like to identify with a character whose wit is as ready and sharp as his sword. In the original and the Steve Martin version, the main character’s rapier-like comebacks to a thoughtless bully are a highlight.

In the original and “Roxanne,” the impediment is a nose so big that the Cyrano character believes no one can see him as a romantic partner. In this swooningly romantic new version, set, like the original, in the 17th century, the physical obstacle is size. Writer Erica Schmidt adapted the play as a musical to be performed on stage by her husband, actor Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) as Cyrano, and ravishingly lovely Haley Bennett as Roxanne. They play those parts in this film, directed by Bennett’s significant other, Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice”)

Roxanne is loved by three men: Cyrano, the handsome but better-with-a-sword-than-with-poetic-love-letters Christian (Kelvin Harrison, Jr. of “Waves”), and the selfish, predatory De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). Cyrano has been her closest friend and confidant since childhood. De Guiche is pressuring her to marry him. Her maid reminds her that she has no money and no other options for supporting herself. But one night at the theater, she glimpses Christian, a newcomer to the military unit where Cyrano serves, and she loses her heart to him. Cyrano agrees to ghost-write love letters from Christian to Roxanne. He pretends it is to help the new recruit but in reality it is to have his one chance to tell the woman he loves how he feels, even if the letters are signed by someone else.

In a way, Schmidt is giving her words to the man he she loves so that we can see him the way she does, gallant, mordantly witty, a brilliant actor, and a person of deep and generous humanity. A scene where he is almost about to dare to hope that Roxanne will say she loves him, the emotions that flicker across his face as he is almost successful maintaining his composure is one of the most touching moments on screen this year.

With Schmidt and Wright creating the words and images for the people they love, in spectacularly beautiful costumes (Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran) and settings (Sicily filling in as 17th century France) with music and even some dance numbers, the unabashed romanticism almost bursts out of the screen. Bennett makes a lovely Roxanne, clever and spirited but allowing her own romanticism to blind her to the love that is already hers. Mendelsohnn seems to specialize in bad guys these days, and this is another strong performance, De Guiche’s brutality glimpsed under a very thin veneer of suavity. Harrison makes a gallant Christian. But it is Dinklage who is in every way the heart of the story. Just as we get to see Cyrano finally use his own words under cover of darkness to play the part of the man whose outside matches his inside, in this film we get to see Dinklage take center stage, with a performance of heart-stopping vulnerability. Rostand would be proud, and so would the man who inspired the play that continues to capture us more than a hundred years later.

Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language, sexual references, sword fights, and battle scenes, with characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Should Cyrano have told Roxanne how he felt? If so, when? Is there a time when you misjudged someone based on looks or when you were misjudged?

If you like this, try: “Roxanne” and the Ferrar and PBS versions of “Cyrano de Bergerac”

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The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild

Posted on January 27, 2022 at 5:53 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and mild language
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended carton-style peril, fire, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues: Disabled character
Date Released to Theaters: January 28, 2022

Copyright 2021 Disney
At this point, it almost seems as though the Ice Age movies are going to go on longer than the Ice Age itself. This latest chapter, like the recent 4th episode of “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” is straight-to-streaming with some sound-alikes replacing the original top-talent voices, but continues in the spirit of silly humor combined with warm tributes to the importance of family.

Since many in the intended audience or even their teen-age babysitters were not yet born when the first “Ice Age” movie was released in 2002, this sixth in the series (not counting video games, television specials, and short films) begins with a recap in cave-painting style, letting us know how the various characters met and decided, even though some of them were natural predators and prey, they would become a family and protect each other. That includes Manny the gloomy mammoth (Sean Kenin replacing Ray Romano), Sid the silly, sibilant sloth (Jake Green replacing John Leguizamo), Diego the grumpy saber-tooth tiger (Jake Green replacing Denis Leary), and Ellie the warm-hearted mammoth (Dominique Jennings replacing Queen Latifah). But those characters are all at the edges of this story, which focuses on Ellie’s two “brothers,” the goofy possums Crash (Vincent Tong) and Eddie (Aaron Harris), and the swashbuckling weasel with an eye-patch, Buck Wild (returning Simon Pegg).

Ellie has cared for Crash and Eddie since the death of their mother, who took Ellie in when she was alone and frightened. But they are chafing under her efforts to keep them safe and want to go off on their own. “She’s smothering us with reasonable advice!” they complain as they dream of a cool bachelor pad where they can do whatever they want. This fantasy setting includes a bling-y necklace and a hot tub. So they go off on their own and end up in the Lost World, where giant spiders and enormous carnivorous plants live with dinosaurs and mammals. They are rescued by Buck Wild, who first appeared in 2009’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” His Edenic garden-like area, with all of the animals living together in peace, is being attacked by a monomaniacal dinosaur named Orson (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who has returned from being banished and wants revenge. He was bullied when he was young for being small and having a big head, but he is proud of his large brain and believes it will help him take over so that he can be the boss.

Buck wants Crash and Eddie to leave because he cannot keep them from getting into trouble while he is fighting Orson. “What they lack in intelligence,” he says, “they make up for in fumbling ineptitude.” And Buck is not sure about accepting help from an estranged friend named Zee (Justina Machado), a skunk-like creature with a Batman-style utility belt. Meanwhile, Diego, Manny, Ellie, and Sid are out looking for Crash and Eddie to bring them home.

As with the other films in the series, this chapter entertainingly combines goofy humor for both kids and adults with some heart-warming lessons about standing up for what is right, working together, taking responsibility, and the families we choose. The younger audience members will enjoy outsmarting Crash and Eddie and adults will enjoy the cultural references. Yes, a character claims to “love the smell of stinky gas in the morning,” just like Robert Duvall loved the smell of napalm . Characters work out their differences, sometimes by “using feeling words,” sometimes by apologizing, and characters discover courage and strength they never realized. Some even come to understand that even families who love each other sometimes have to let go, but they can always come home.

Parents should know that this movie has references to loss of family members and a disabled character who is very capable. There is extended cartoon-style peril with fire and an authoritarian bully.

Family discussion: When should you plan and when should you improvise? What made Buck and Zee stop being friends and how did they get to be friends again? Why didn’t Zee want to tell anyone her real name? Why does Orson want to be the boss?

If you like this, try: the other “Ice Age” movies

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Rifkin’s Festival

Posted on January 27, 2022 at 5:15 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for suggestive/sexual material and some drug use, language and thematic elements
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 28, 2022

Copyright The Mediapro Studio 2021
“Stardust Memories,” released in 1980, is one of Woody Allen’s best films, a semi-autobiographical story of a writer/director who attends a film festival where he is being honored. He is surrounded by people who want something from him or try to impress him with fatuous faux-intellectual comments and struggles with his purpose as people keep telling him they prefer his earlier, funny films. He is also torn between two women, a wholesome, devoted single mother and a troubled musician. We see glimpses of some of his films and at one point he has an encounter with super-intelligent aliens who tell him that if he wants to help humanity he should write funnier jokes.

Forty-two years and almost as many films later, Woody Allen returns to the setting and some of the themes of that film with “Rifkin’s Festival,” about a man who attends a film festival and is torn between two women as he is having an existential crisis about his purpose.

That man is Mort Rifkin (Wallace Shawn), who once taught film classes about classic European cinema but is now mired in working on a novel. He is not happy about attending the festival in San Sebastián, but he is worried that his wife, Sue (Gina Gershon) has a crush on one of her PR clients, a director who is being honored at the festival. Woody Allen for decades has been more interested in churning out movies than in taking the time and care to give the characters or storylines any depth, so Mort does not respond to this concern by talking to her or trying to be more engaged and thoughtful. Instead he sulks and develops psychosomatic symptoms. The title is something of a wry joke as Mort never goes to any of the festival’s screenings or events. The only films he sees are the ones in his head.

At a superficial level, it is mildly entertaining, with some very clever lines and the fun for cinephiles of seeing Mort’s angst expressed through placing his situation in the context of his favorite films, from “Jules et Jim” to “Persona.” Mort barely qualifies as a character but thanks to Wallace Shawn he is able to get some sympathy from us. The other characters are barely sketched as concepts, Sue and her director client as antagonists created out of Mort’s deepest insecurities and Jo (Elena Anaya), the doctor he consults and starts to flirt with, just another Allen fantasy figure, though thankfully one who is an actual grown-up.

I have nothing but support for those who have concluded that they do not wish to watch any more of Woody Allen’s films because of his behavior or his alleged behavior. But for those who separate the art from the artist, I would say that this movie at least gestures at some of the criticisms he has faced (see actual grown-up point and some reconsideration of intellectual snobbery — as well as some endorsement of it. All of it is treated very lightly and so pretty to look at that for a moment it almost seems that there may have been a second draft before he said “Action.”

Parents should know that this movie has mature themes including adultery and some strong language and sexual references, drinking and drugs.

Family discussion: What should Rifkin have said to Sue about his worries? What will he do next?

If you like this, try: “Stardust Memories” and “Annie Hall”

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The Tiger Rising

Posted on January 17, 2022 at 5:46 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, language and brief violence
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Adult and school-age bullies, sad death of parent, fist-fight, animal shot and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 21, 2022

Copyright The Avenue 2021
Imagine the enchantment of this invitation from one lonely, sad, 10-year-old to another: “I know where there’s a tiger.” And imagine the thrill of this observation to someone whose creations have not been noticed: “You are an artist.”

“The Tiger Rising” is based on the best-selling book by Kate DiCamillo, who has called it her most autobiographical book, inspired by her childhood in Florida. In it, a boy who tries to keep his feelings inside meets a girl who pushes a lot of angry feelings out so that she does not have to admit how scared and sad she is.

The boy who discovers a caged tiger in the woods is Rob Horton (Christian Convery), who lives in a run-down motel with his father, following the devastating loss of his mother. Flashbacks show how close they were and how much she supported his gifts as an artist. He is bullied at school and the only person he has to talk to is the motel maid, Willie May (Queen Latifah, who also was a producer on the film).

Rob has developed an itchy, stress-related skin condition and the principal has sent him home until it clears up. As he goes for a walk in the wooded area across from the motel, a raindrop falls on his cheek, reminding him that when he cried at his mother’s funeral he father was harsh: “There’s no point in crying. It ain’t going to bring her back.” Rob Sr. (“True Blood’s” Sam Trammel) is struggling, working as a handyman in exchange for their room at the motel, still grieving himself and ashamed of not doing a better jog of caring for his son. And he is dealing with his own bully, the motel’s owner, Beauchamp (Dennis Quaid). So Rob and his father barely speak to each other.

There is a new girl in Rob’s class at school. Her name is Sistine, “like the chapel.” And she is played by the terrific Madalen Mills of “Jingle Jangle,” perfect for the lively, outspoken Sistine, who has no problem verbally or physically confronting bullies or telling other people what to do. She insists that she will only be in Florida for a few weeks because her father will be coming to get her. Like Rob, she has found herself alone with the parent she was less close to, and her bluster is not as effective at hiding her fear and sadness as she wants it to be.

The tiger belongs to Beauchamp, and he hires Rob to feed it, warning him not to tell anyone. But Rob brings Sistine to see it, and she is immediately determined to set it free. Rob is not so sure.

Writer/director Ray Giarratana has a background in special effects on films like “The Life Aquatic” and “John Wick 3,” and the effects here are exceptionally well done, from the tiger, magnificent in fur and muscle and movement to the subtle animation of Rob’s drawing. It lends a touch of magic that both softens some of the harsher material and helps keep us inside the children’s point of view. Thought their eyes we see that sad and scary things happen. But being honest and finding a way to help each other is what keeps us going.

Parents should know that this movie includes a very sad death of one parent and a description of another parent leaving after and affair. There are adult and child bullies with some schoolyard and rude language. Characters fight and an animal is killed with a gun.

Family discussion: What would you do about the tiger? Why does Sistine call Willie May a prophetess?

If you like this, try: “Hoot,” “The Water Man,” and “A Dolphin Tale”

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Movies to Honor the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

Posted on January 17, 2022 at 12:00 pm

Copyright 2014 Paramount Pictures
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.

“MLK/FBI” has 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.

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