Elvis

Posted on June 20, 2022 at 9:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2022
Date Released to DVD: September 12, 2022

Copyright Warner Brothers 2022
Director Baz Luhrmann is a natural choice for the story of Elvis Presley, both known for the ultimate in showmanship, making excess into an asset. Right off the bat, the nearly-three-hour movie opens with a bedazzled version of the Warner Brothers logo, as though it was designed by the tailor who did Elvis’ late-career wardrobe. Unabashedly theatrical, even more unabashedly on the side of its title subject, “Elvis” is a love letter, not a history lesson. It celebrates excess; it almost wallows in it. But it does so joyfully.

It begins with Colonel or rather “Colonel” Parker (Tom Hanks in a fat suit, with a weird accent and fake nose. “Citizen Kane” style, on what could be his deathbed, reminiscing about what he has loved and lost. As we hear his narration, we see him, in his hospital gown, wandering through a deserted Las Vegas casino, telling us about his connection to the young singer from Tupelo.

Elvis (played as a boy by Chaydon Jay) lives with his parents Vernon (Richard Roxburgh) and Gladys (Helen Thomson) in a Black neighborhood, where he is thrilled by the music around him, the sacred (gospel) and the profane (down and dirty blues). He is also immersed in country music, and somehow he (played as a teen and adult by a terrific Austin Butler) finds a way to synthesize all three into proto-rock and roll. Colonel Parker, a carny promoter, hears his music and realizes that he has the opportunity of the century, a white singer who sounds Black. Elvis is on the bill with a country star. He’s nervous at first on stage in his flamboyant pink suit, but then, like the revival meeting attendees struck by the spirit, he is, well, all shook up. And so is the audience. It’s almost like the Conrad Birdie “Sincere” scene in “Bye Bye Birdie.” Luhrmann brings a palpable, kinetic energy to the scene that is cheekily over the top.

The musical numbers (all but the very early ones with Elvis’ own voice) are dynamic, and an extended section where Colonel Parker sells the television network and the sponsor on an Elvis Christmas special featuring Elvis in a Christmas sweater singing carols and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Elvis, still true to his muse, insists on wearing a black leather suit (now iconic, as is that entire 1968 special. The world changed around him but Elvis was never less than a thrilling performer, as we see at the end of film, with a short clip of his last performance, clearly ill and impaired, but nailing one of the most difficult songs of all, “Unchained Melody.”

The musical numbers: great. The romance with teenage Priscilla: not given much attention. The relationship with Colonel Parker: the central focus of the movie and the weakest part of the movie. We get no real insight into the internal lives of either characters; there’s an emptiness to the film when Elvis is not on stage. That could be the point of the movie, but it never acknowledges it. Tom Hanks never disappears into Colonel Parker. Compare him to Paul Giamatti in the similarly themed “Love and Mercy,” where the individuals and the manipulative, enticing, and abusive elements of the relationship were much more clearly defined.

I enjoyed the film. But then I came home and watched a half hour of clips of Elvis, and I enjoyed that a lot more.
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Parents should know that this movie includes sex (non-explicit), drugs, and of course rock and roll, along with some bad behavior, relationship conflicts, and sad deaths.

Family discussion: Why was it so hard for Elvis to break off his relationship with Colonel Parker? How did Colonel Parker manipulate him? How is celebrity different today and how is it the same?

If you like this, try: Some of Elvis’ best movies like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Viva Las Vegas”

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Lightyear

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:54 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi peril and cartoon-style violence, sad death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022
Date Released to DVD: September 12, 2022

Copyright Disney 2022
Watch carefully in Lightyear for a moment just for those kids born in in the 80s who were the first digital natives. A cartridge inserted into a computer deck is not working correctly, and Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans taking over from Tim Allen) has to fix it. What does he do? Say it with me, people in their 30s: He blows on the exposed tape side and re-inserts it. Now, that may not have worked in real life, but thankfully, it works for Buzz.

This kind of detail is what we expect from Pixar, along with superbly crafted films that make us laugh, gasp, and cry. We’re reminded at the beginning of “Lightyear” that in 1995 Andy was given a Buzz Lightyear toy from his favorite movie. And then we’re told that this, what we ae about to see, is that movie. It doesn’t need to overdo the 90s references, but once in a while, like the blowing on the cartridge, we get a reminder that the lovable nerds at Pixar know us all too well.

This is not the toy Buzz Lightyear who has some existential confusion and thinks he is the actual character. This is the actual character, a lantern-jawed space ranger, the All-American boy next door type, brave, loyal, extremely good at his job, and stubbornly independent. His closest friend is fellow Ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). But he does not work well with others, especially rookies.

Buzz and Alisha are on a long-term space journey. They stop to investigate an uncharted planet and, as anyone who has ever clocked a red shit on “Star Trek” knows, it turns out to be much more treacherous than they expected (though, thankfully, to have breathable air). As they are on their way back to “the turnip,” which is what they call their rocket due to its shape, the rocket is so badly damaged they are stuck. All of the 1200 passengers who have been in suspended animation will have to be awakened to find that they are marooned, with no way to return to the mission or go home.

Buzz is determined to save the day. He undertakes a very dangerous test flight. For him, it is four minutes. But, due to the difference between time on a planet and time in space, he returns to find that four years have passed for Alicia and everyone else. Things have changed. The space travelers have built a community. Alicia is engaged to a scientist. People have adapted. Buzz feels responsible for getting them stuck and he is determined to keep trying until he gets the necessary mix of elements to give the rocket the fuel it needs. But each test run means another four years. He comes back and Alecia and her wife are expecting a child. He comes back again and the child is four years old. His life is passing in minutes and his friend’s is passing in years, in decades.

Other than Alicia, Buzz’s only companion is a robot cat. Think a combination of R2D2, C-3Po, and Captain Marvel’s Flerken. Ultimately he will find a group of people who do not have the training, discipline, or skills Buzz has always relied on in his missions. All of the difficulty he has had in relying on others is multiplied just as it has become necessary to trust them.

The reveal near the end did not work as well for me, but I especially liked the way it deals with two issues we don’t often see in movies for children, how to move on after making a mistake, learning to see the best in people, and learning to rely on others. As always with Pixar, the movie is filled with endearing characters and witty and telling details, brilliantly designed settings, sublime silliness, and exciting action scenes and yes, you will cry. It is easy to understand why this was Andy’s favorite movie.

Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi peril and violence with scary robots and sci-fi weapons. There is a very sad death. A devoted gay couple is portrayed in an admirably matter-of-fact, low-key manner with grace and dignity.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Buzz to accept help? What is the best way to make up for mistakes?

If you like this, try: The “Toy Story” movies, “Galaxy Quest,” and the old Flash Gordon serials.

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Cha Cha Real Smooth

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Miscarriage, some scuffles, bullies
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022

Copyright Apple 2022
This summer’s Sundance charmer is “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” the festival’s audience favorite. It is written, directed, produced, and co-edited by Cooper Raiff, who stars as Andrew, at a loss following his graduation from Tulane. His girlfriend has gone to Barcelona on a Fulbright scholarship and her social media suggests that she has moved on. He is sharing a room with his middle-school-age brother David (Evan Assante), in the home of the mother (Leslie Mann) he is very close to and the step-father (Brad Garrett) he is decidedly not very close to. He is working at that most dispiriting of jobs, a fast food place called Meat Sticks. Just at the moment when he should be moving forward, he is stuck.

We’ve seen a lot of movies about this difficult moment, from “The Graduate” to “Laggies,” when the promise and structure that have propelled someone from kindergarten through college somehow have not produced the sense of purpose and direction they were expecting. Raiff brings something unusual to the predicament this time. Andrew has a buoyant optimism, natural charm, and innate kindness that make him appealing both to the other characters in the story and to us. Raiff has an easy authenticity on screen that is especially impressive from someone directing himself.

in a brief prologue, we see young Andrew attending a bar mitzvah party, with a crush not on one of the girls his age but on the “party starter.” That’s the job of the “tummler” (in Yiddish), the person whose job is to keep the party mood happy and make sure everyone is involved and having a good time. It’s especially important for middle school parties, when the attendees are very excited but inexperienced. Once we’re in the present day, Andrew again finds himself at a bar mitzvah party for one of David’s classmates. And no one is on the dance floor.

Andrew has a gift for making kids feel confident and ready to participate. One girl is in a corner with headphones and a puzzle cube. Her name is Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) and she has autism. He bets her mother he can get her to dance. And he does. He is immediately surrounded by mothers who want to hire him to be the party starter for their b’nai mizvot. And since the kids involved all go to school together, he sees the same people over and over, including Lola and her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson, who also co-produced).

Andrew is drawn to Domino, who warms to him for his ability to connect to Lola. After he comes to her rescue at yet another bar mitzvah party, she invites him to be Lola’s sitter.

Andrew and Domino have to sort through their feelings for one another and Andrew has to do for himself what he does so skillfully for the 12- and 13-year olds he entices to the dance floor; he needs to find encouragement to take that next, seemingly-perilous step. Sometimes those lessons are painful, even when everyone involved is well-meaning. Raiff wisely lets Andrew learn them anyway. We leave knowing that Andrew will find his way and that Raiff already has.

Parents should know that this movie includes some very strong language, sexual references and situations, drinking and drunkenness, bullies, a miscarriage and some scuffles.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Andrew to take the next step? What should he have done to prepare? Do you agree with Domino’s decision?

If you like this, try: “Laggies” and “Post Grad” and Raiff’s previous film, “S***house”

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Jerry and Marge Go Large

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for for some language and suggestive reference
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022

Copyright Paramount 2022
Hey parents! Next time your kids tell you that they’ll never need math, show them “Jerry and Marge Go Large,” based on the true story of a retiree who used math to figure out a loophole in the state lottery and won $26 million. If it pads out the storyline a bit, that’s okay because we can all us a Frank Capra-esque real-life fairy tale right now. Capra, of course, was one of Hollywood’s most beloved directors, whose movies were often affectionately (or derisively) called “Capra-corn” for their populist stories of communities coming together and characters realizing that money was not as important as family and sharing with those we love.

It really happened. Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening play Jerry and Marge. In the film, he is forced to retire after 42 years working as a line manager at a cereal company and he has no idea what to do with his time. “I don’t have any regular clothes,” he says. His children give him a fishing boat as a retirement gift. “Do I like fishing?” he asks Marge.

Jerry has spent his whole life on “must do.” He never had a chance to think about “love to do” or even “want to do.” He does like math, though. He does Sudoku puzzles for fun. And one day, when a new state lottery called Winfall is announced, he realizes that the state lottery commission has miscalculated. This next part is a little math-y, but it won’t last long. Normally, if no one wins the lottery, the prize money rolls over, which is how you get these gigantic Powerball payouts. But they did something different with the Winfall. If no one had all the numbers right, there was a “roll down” and the prize money went to the people who got most of the numbers. Jerry did the math and figured out that he could get enough numbers right to guarantee a win if he bought enough tickets.

At first, he does not tell Marge. But when she finds out, she is delighted. It is not about the money. She wants to feel excited about something and she wants them to have an adventure together. “I want to have fun,” she says. “Let’s be a little stupid. We got married when we were 17 so we know how to do it. I’d rob a bank if it gives us something to talk about.”

And so they are off on an adventure, with the help of friends, including a scruffy convenience store manager (Rainn Wilson) and an accountant (Larry Wilmore). And there is a villain, a smart student who spotted the same loophole and wants all of the lottery winnings.

Cranston and Bening bring magnetism, chemistry, and wit to the central relationship. Some might overlook this quiet, retired couple, but that does not include their community or those of us who enjoy seeing unassuming, good people get what they deserve and share what they get with those they love.

Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, college student misbehavior, and suggestive references.

Family discussion: What would you do with $26 million? When has math been helpful to you?

If you like this, try: “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (the original version starring Gary Cooper)

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The Phantom of the Open

Posted on June 9, 2022 at 5:45 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and smoking
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: Class issues are a theme in the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 3, 2022
Date Released to DVD: August 30, 2022

Copyright Entertainment One 2022
I’m going to appropriate a term used for the mystery novels set in England where everyone sits down for tea with the vicar to discuss the latest clues — “cozies” — and use it for the Britain-set stories of irresistibly pixie-ish charm. And within that genre is a sub-genre that, to an American, seems quintessentially British. We all love our heroes, our risk-takers who succeed. But the understated British also love the goofy ones who pursue silly goals and sometimes fail spectacularly and do not seem to be bothered by it. Take “Eddie the Eagle,” for example, the Taron Edgerton film about the Olympic athlete who came in last in his event in the 1988 Olympics. Or those like Tim FitzHigham who rowed a bathtub across the English Channel. “The Phantom of the Open” is about a crane operator who decided to compete in the world’s oldest and most prestigious golfing competition, the British Open despite, among other drawbacks, never having actually played a round of golf. It is based on the real-life story of Maurice Flitcroft.

Mark Rylance, who also co-produced, pays Maurice, who was born in a small town where everyone works in the shipyard. During WWII he was evacuated to Scotland, where for the first time he saw other possibilities and was encouraged to discover and pursue his own dreams. He ended up back home and working at the shipyard, though. And he fell in love with a secretary there (Sally Hawkins as Jean), a single mother. They had twins and then everything pretty much stayed the same as the three boys grew up.

And then the political and economic changes led to “redundancies” (lay-offs) and for the first time Maurice had a chance to think about what dreams he might have. That was so far from his experience he first had to ask Jean to think of some. But then, one night, watching his first-ever television, he saw a golf match and a dream was born.

The British Open, as its name suggests, did not require any particular level of achievement or qualification, but the people who ran it just assumed that only world-class golfers would try to participate. Maurice avoided having to disclose his handicap (he had no idea what that was) by self-certifying as a professional, and that was all it took. And so, he found himself competing as the astonished onlookers, including the other golfers and the television audience, saw him, well, let’s just say the record he set was not for the lowest score.

This is a part made for Rylance, who is ideally suited to a character who may not be as naive as he appears. Director Craig Roberts gives the story a fairy tale quality, seeing Maurice as an innocent wandering through the big bad world and outsmarting those who live by traditional notions of class, power, and achievement, all to the bright and bouncy soundtrack of 70’s hits. Maurice is deferential and courteous but he is also unstoppable. Some people call his Quixotic efforts to play in the Open pranks or hoaxes. This movie comes down on the side of considering him a lovable eccentric. And it delivers with a heartwarming conclusion that — especially if you don’t follow the movie with a further investigation into the facts — might inspire you to dream a little bigger yourself.

Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, smoking and drinking.

Family discussion: Why do some people think of Maurice as a “legend?” Why was that his dream?

If you like this, try: “Eddie the Eagle” and clips of the real Maurice on YouTube

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