Wendell & Wild

Posted on October 27, 2022 at 5:49 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some thematic material, violence, substance use and brief strong language.
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Fantasy substance use
Violence/ Scariness: Creepy horror-style violence, sad death of parents, zombies, demons, underworld, some grisly images
Diversity Issues: Race, gender, trans, and disability inclusion, negative portrayal of religious figures
Date Released to Theaters: October 28, 2022

Copyright 2022 Netflix
Henry Selick, master of the macabre and of stop motion animation (“Coraline,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “James and the Giant Peach”) has produced another Halloween-ish delight. The movie is as visually stunning and deliciously creepy as we have come to hope for from Selick but the story is not as strong as his Neil Gaiman/Roald Dahl/Tim Burton collaborations, even though it is co-written with Jordan Peele, who co-stars with his “Key and Peele” collaborator Keegan-Michael Key. But it does have a brave young heroine (Lyric Ross as Kat), wildly imaginative visuals that reward a second and third viewing, and some nicely satisfying twists. It is also a welcome animated film with a cast that bridges racial, gender, and disability diversity.

Like Coraline, Kat is a brave girl with instinctive integrity, though something of a loner. We first see her as an eight-year-old, with her loving parents, who own a successful brewery her father describes as “the heart of” their town, Rust Bank. When we first see her parents, they are turning down an offer to buy the brewery after a successful fund-raiser for the local public library, where her mother works. On the way home, their car runs off a bridge. Kat’s parents save her, but cannot save themselves. And she blames herself.

Meanwhile, in the underworld, souls are sent to The Scream Fair,” a ghostly un-amusement park located on the belly of a gigantic devilish guy named Buffalo Belzer (Ving Rhames). His human-sized sons, Wendell (Key) and Wild (Peele) are ordered to spread Handsome hair cream on Buffalo’s head to re-grow his hair. They discover that the cream has some special properties. It tingles their tummies. It gives them a vision of a “hellmaiden.” And it brings dead things back to life.

Five years later, after getting into trouble several times, Kat is sent to a Catholic boarding school bask in Rust Bank. Now with green hair, pierced eyebrow, and a lot of attitude, she insists she has no interest in the offers of friendship from the other students, including “prize poodle” and alpha girl Siobhan Klaxon (Tamara Smart), who has a pet baby goat and wants to call Kat “KK,” and trans boy Raul (Sam Zelaya). “I don’t do friends. Bad things happen to people I’m close to….They die.”

Wendell and Wild dream of building their own, much bette amusement park. Buffalo calls them insurrectionists and sends them to prison. Their only hope is to escape the underworld with the assistance of a hellmaiden. Conveniently, though she does not know it yet, one named Kat has just arrived in Rust Bank, and they have something she wants more than anything…a way to bring her parents back from the dead.

It turns out there is another hell maiden at the school. When she finds that Wendell and Wild have a more destructive plan, Kat learns to accept help from unexpected sources.

It is…strange. The various pieces do not always work together. But it is fascinating to watch, with details that reward repeated viewings and a reassuringly warm heart.

Parents should know that this movie includes creepy and sometimes grisly themes and images including the underworld and demoons, zombies, the dead brought back to life, sad death of parents, corruption including members of the church, brief strong language and fantasy substance abuse.

Family discussion: Why do people want to make money from prisons? Why did Wendell and Wild want to make an amusement park?

If you like this, try: “Coraline,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beetlejuice,” “ParaNorman,” and “James and the Giant Peach”

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Posted on October 27, 2022 at 5:30 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for brief sexual material and some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Diversity Issues: Alcohol, scenes in bar
Date Released to Theaters: October 28, 2022
Copyright 2022 A24

Two universal truths are devastatingly sad, even for those lucky enough to have stable, happy families. First, we spend our lives trying to find the sense of complete comfort and security we had in the arms of our parents, or wish we did. Second, except in the most tragic circumstances, we leave our children too soon. Even if they are parents themselves at the end of our lives, it is always too soon, and we are aware of that all the time. We love seeing them become more independent, even as we have the bittersweet understanding that each day they belong less to us and more to themselves.

That is the theme of a small miracle of a first film from writer/director Charlotte Wells. Tennessee Williams described “The Glass Menagerie” as “a memory play.” “Aftersun” is a memory movie, not just a movie about someone’s memory but a movie about memory itself, presented in a flickering, sometimes kaleidoscopic fashion, present mingled with past, layered with understanding and regret.

Most of the story is through the eyes of Sophie (an astonishing performance by Frankie Corio), and it takes place on a vacation she takes with her father, Callum (an excellent Paul Mescal) at a low-end Turkish resort in the 1990s. Some of it is literally through her eyes as she films with a camcorder. And some of it is through a third-party objective camera, but it only sees and understands what she does.

We may understand a little more. Callum has a cast on his arm, and when Sophie asks him about it, he won’t tell her what happened. She asks about a plan he told her about earlier and he says it’s not happening but is vague about what’s next. He tells her about how much time she has to be anything she wants and we wonder, though he is so young he was mistaken for her brother, if he is worried about how much time he has. At one point, we see him sob. Is it because he misses Sophie? Does he still have feelings for her mother? Or is there something more dire pressing on him?

We come to understand that we are not in that moment; we are in Sophie’s mind as she thinks back on it as an adult, seeing what she was not able to understand at the time. This movie is not about what happens next and what happens next. It is not about the lessons learned or the innocence lost on that vacation. It is a tender poem about how we look back on love and loss, pure cinematic storytelling, and one of the best films of the year.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language, drinking, sexual references and teen kissing.

Family discussion: What wasn’t Calum telling Sophie? How do you know? Was he a good dad? What do we learn from the glimpse of Sophie as an adult?

If you like this, try: “Eighth Grade” and “Lady Bird”

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Ticket to Paradise

Posted on October 20, 2022 at 5:12 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and brief suggestive material
Profanity: A few strong words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness portrayed as humorous
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, animal bites
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 21, 2022

Copyright Universal 2022
Director/co-writer Ol Parker has taken most of the ingredients from the hit “Mamma Mia” and remixed them, as he did with his sequel, “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!” Oscar-winning actors of vast charm and charisma. Screensaver-pretty settings on the shore. Wedding plans for a young couple that the older folks think may be too young. Bringing together people who have not seen each other for a long time and have unfinished business. All of which can be combined for entertainment value. But in this case, “Ticket to Paradise” leaves out the most important element in the success of the “Mamma Mia” films: the music of Swedish singing sensation ABBA. And it leaves out the most important element in the success of any movie: believable characters we want to succeed.

It gets pretty far on the screen chemistry of its two leads and up-and-coming star Kaitlyn Dever (be sure to check her out in “Rosaline,” “Booksmart,” and “Short Term 12”). George Clooney and Julia Roberts play David and Georgia Cotten, battling, bitter exes who divorced 20 years ago, after a five-year marriage and are still so hurt and angry they insist on not being seated together at their daughter’s college graduation. Dever plays their daughter Lily, who loves them both and tries to please them but finds it all exhausting. She is headed to law school, but first she and her BFF Wren (the always-great Billie Lourd, also from “Booksmart”) are off to a vacation in Bali. So basically the rest of the movie takes place in my screensaver, which the characters in the movie credibly keep calling the most beautiful place in the world. There she meets and falls in love with a local seaweed farmer with a great smile (Maxime Bouttier as Gede). And she decides to marry him, even though he lives half a world away from her home in Chicago and she’s only known him a month. Her parents decide they will suspend hostilities long enough to stop the wedding. And they think the best way to do that is to pretend they are on board while they subvert it every way they can. So, basically, “Mamma Mia” plus Roberts’ own “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” But no ABBA music and no Rupert Everett to disguise the fact that it lurches from one dumb situation to another.

Roberts and Clooney do their considerable best, and for those, and there are many, who would pay to hear them read the phone book, this movie will do the trick. But we can see the effort they are putting in to sell material, dialogue and situations, that are just not up to the task. Roberts uses her dazzling smile and endearing laugh (despite costumes designed to make her look dowdy even though she is supposed to be a highly sophisticated art dealer) and Clooney uses his raffish charm, all of which go a long way, just not long enough to withstand the dreariness of a storyline that depends on intended-to-be-hilarious animal bites and intended-to-be-charming insults between exes. It is childish, selfish, and exhausting. Like Lily, we wish we could be half a world away from it, gazing at the sunset from a pristine beach.

Parents should know that this movie has mild peril including a snake bite, some mild sexual references, and a few bad words.

Family discussion: What do we learn from the different versions of David’s proposal we hear from both sides? What will happen to Lily and Gede?

If you like this, try: “Mamma Mia” and its sequel and better Roberts and Clooney movies like “Oceans 11,” “The Runaway Bride,” and “One Fine Day”

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Black Adam

Posted on October 20, 2022 at 5:04 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action and some language
Profanity: A few strong words
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/supehero peril and violence, many characters injured and killed including family members and a child held and gunpoint and another one murdered,
Date Released to Theaters: October 21, 2022
Date Released to DVD: January 3, 2023

Copyright 2022 Warner Brothers
In the mid-credit scene in “The League of Super-Pets,” Dwayne Johnson (as Black Adam) explains to Krypto the super-dog (also Johnson) what it means to be an anti-hero. “It’s basically the same thing as being a hero but way cooler. You make your own rules and then you break them. Also you can ignore most moral and ethical conventions because no one can stop you.”

That was a cheeky nod to Johnson’s next role, the anti-hero of “Black Adam,” a DC Comics superhero/anti-hero, which has a lot of old-school superhero requirements — origin story, walking away from a huge fire without looking back, heroes in slo-mo, and someone looking up into the sky and moan/yelling “Noooooo!” Make that two “Noooooos!” It also has a bit of meta-humor about catchphrases and more recent addition to the expected elements: some Gen-Z superheroes, one for comic relief, and, much more welcome, a lot more diversity.

That mid-credit sequence in an animated movie for kids had a better understanding of what it means to be an anti-hero than this movie does. More seriously, it also had a much better idea of how to make the best of one of Hollywood’s most appealing actors. “Black Adam” (known as Teth Adam for most of the film) does not have a clear idea of where its title character should fall on the spectrum from anti-hero to hero. And he is tamped down emotionally for most of it, which means we get only glimpses of Johnson’s limitless charm.

We do get plenty of what we go to superhero movies for, though, big superhero fights with an assortment of well-crafted characters using their different powers. There’s a solid theme about an (imaginary but believable) resource-rich place that has been occupied by oppressive invaders for millennia.

It begins thousands of years ago, before the great civilizations of Egypt and Rome, in the Middle Eastern area known as Kahndaq. After many years of peace and plenty, a ruler arises who wants absolute power. He enslaves the population and makes them mine the country’s version of Wakanda’s vibranium and Pandora’s unnobtanium, oh and also the rings of power. This is called etermium, and a crown made out of it will give the wearer all the superpowers necessary to control pretty much everything. Just as a note, these folks are not the greatest with names. The thugs who are running Kohndaq have the most boring name possible for a bunch of menacing tough guys. They are called Intergang. Seriously. That’s like one of those incomplete programming jokes from “Free Guy.”

A young boy tries to inspire the enslaved people to challenge the king. Wizards pick someone to be a hero and bestow magical powers on him.

We will not find out the whole story of the hero’s defeat of that ruler until later in the film, but after the opening sequence, we are in present day, and Adriana (Sarah Shahi) is trying to retrieve the crown from the cave where it has been hidden for thousands of years, because she knows people are trying to steal it. Things don’t go well and the ancient hero is brought back to life as Teth Adam, who can not just fly but levitate and shoot lightning from his body. Even mercenaries with etermium-powered technology are no match for that.

Teth Adam’s literal scorched-earth approach attracts the attention of the Justice Society, and there is one of those tense but understated calls between Hackman (Aldis Hodge) and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). I hope Hawkman gets his own movie, by the way. Hodge is wonderfully magnetic and his character’s wings are very well designed. He brings in his old friend (old in both senses of the word), Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan, all silky elegance and world-weariness), who has all kinds of tricks, including the ability to see the future. They are accompanied by two newcomers, Maxine (Quintessa Swindell), described as “a tornado with a 167 IQ), and the affable if a bit clueless Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), who has just inherited the super-suit from his uncle (Henry Winkler!) and hasn’t got all the kinks out.

Teth Adam is presented as opposite to Hawkman because he does not worry about whether it is fair to kill the bad guys when not in a specific situation of peril. But the more interesting question that is raised is from Adriana, who points out that Teth Adam is from their community, while the so-called Justice Society are just another set of interlopers, Justics-splaining to people who cannot help wondering why justice did not seem so important during their centuries of occupation and abuse.

Of course, that’s just a very small part of the film. The rest is comic-book action, and all of that is well staged except for the key element that we are not given enough information about the powers and especially the vulnerabilities of all of the many superheroes. That makes even the most energetic and expertly staged conflicts less exciting than they could be. And Teth Adam does not meet the description of Johnson’s meta-description in the animated film. He’s not someone who has deliberately chosen to violate ethical principles. He’s more like the Terminator in the first film, just a shark-like machine who pursues goals regardless of collateral damage. His interaction with a skater boi teenager (Bodhi Sabongui as Amon) recalls “Terminator 2,” even to the kid’s insistence on providing Teth Adam with a catchphrase.

As Teth becomes more human by reckoning with the losses of his past, we begin to see a little more life in the character. But by then of course we are in the middle of yet another superhero battle, this time more emotionally charged because we have begun to care about the characters. The pilot light is still too low but it’s getting warmer.

NOTE: Stay for a mid-credit scene indicating which legendary character will be joining the cast in the sequel.

Parents should know that this movie has extended superhero/comic book peril and violence with many minor characters and a few major characters injured and killed, including a child held at gunpoint and another who is killed. There are some disturbing and graphic images including a character sliced in half, several burned to death, and a couple impaled. Characters use brief strong language.

Family discussion: What is the biggest difference of opinion between Hawkman and Teth Adam? What would you like to have as your catchphrase?

If you like this, try: “Man of Steel,” “Shazam,” and “Justice League”

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The Banshees of Inisherin

Posted on October 19, 2022 at 10:30 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some violent content and brief graphic nudity
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Domestic abuse including sexual abuse, suicide, graphic and disturbing self-mutilation, arson
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 7, 2022
Date Released to DVD: December 19, 2022

Copyright 2022 Searchlight
As The Banshees of Inisherin, the new film from Martin McDonagh, the writer/director of “In Bruges” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” begins, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) looks like a man who understands his life and is content with it. He nods companionably at people he passes, as he walks along the spectacularly beautiful path of (fictional) Inisherin Island, off the coast of Northern Ireland. He knows where he fits into the world, he knows everyone around him and the names of all their animals, and he knows what each day holds, tending to his cows and the little donkey named Jenny that is a beloved pet, stopping at the home of his best friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleason) every day at 2:00 pm to invite him to the pub for some drinks before he goes home to dinner made by his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon).

If he thought about it, which he does not, because he does not think about much and takes comfort in not having to think about much, Pádraic would feel comforted by that familiarity and certainty. So, as this movie begins, Pádraic pets Colm’s dog, as usual, then invites him to the pub, as usual, it is deeply disturbing when Colm does not answer and even more disturbing when Colm does come to the pub but will not sit with him. Pádraic offers to apologize for anything he may have done to insult or upset Colm. But Colm shakes him to the core by saying he no longer likes Pádraic or wants to be friends with him.

Colm has been doing some thinking about life and has decided he no longer has time for chit-chat about meaningless topics. He wants to spend all of the time he has left creating something that will live on after he is gone. Pádraic is not able to understand this. he believes that meaningless chit-chat has value because it is kind; perhaps it is all that has value. When he refuses to let Colm alone, Colm makes a terrible promise. He will cut off a finger every time Pádraic tries to speak to him.

Gleason and Farrell, re-teamed with “In Bruges” writer/director McDonogh, give performances of deep complexity and authenticity. We can see them each, in his own way, struggling with his thoughts and emotions they find difficult to explain. Director of Photography Ben Davis places this small story of a small quarrel in the midst of spectacular beauty, with an evocative core from Carter Burwell. The characters occasionally refer casually to the far-distant sounds of gunfire from the battles of the Irish civil war and one mentions the payment and free lunch he will get from providing security at an upcoming hanging, though he does not remember which side the condemned men were on. They may give some thought to existential questions about the meaning of life, but when it comes to the affairs of the world, they seem to have no impact at all. The local shop proprietor insists on being paid in local gossip as well as money, the more lurid the better as long as it does not pertain to someone she cares about. But no one seems connected enough to try to respond to what is going on. Everyone knows that the local policeman constantly abuses his son (a heart-wrenching performance by Barry Keoghan as the damaged man). Other than offering him a night in their home — only one, Siobhan insists, no one intervenes.

There’s a sterility to the community. None of the main characters are married and we see almost no children. Siobhan is the only one who seems connected to the larger world, through a love of books the rest of the community considers mildly odd. And yet, in their own way, each of the characters is trying to find purpose. Neither Pádraic nor Colm is right. Kindness and art are both ways to find meaning. They may be wrong in considering them mutually exclusive. McDonagh pursues these questions here, as he did in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “In Bruges,” with a unique combination of dark humor, shocking violence, and an invitation to the audience that is both heightened and very real.

Parents should know that this movie included graphic and very disturbing self-mutilation, sexual and violent abuse of an adult by his parent, suicide, off-screen (real-life) war violence, strong language, drinking and drunkenness

Family discussion: Who is right about what is important in life, Colm, Pádraic, or Siobhan? Why is the story set during the time of the Irish Civil War? Why are the characters in this story unmarried and childless?

If you like this, try: “In Bruges”

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