Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Posted on June 29, 2023 at 5:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, language and smoking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and action-violence, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 30, 2023

Copyright 2023 Disney
It’s been a long time since the archeology students of Dr. Henry (Indiana) Jones, Jr. (Harrison Ford) gazed longingly at him in the lecture hall. In the first movie of this now-five chapter series, one of them even wrote: “love you” on her eyelids. That was in the 1940s, and we get a flashback to that era with Indy captured by his old foes, the Nazis, and then his thrilling escape with his friend, Basil Shaw (Toby Jones). Just as in the first film, they were seeking the Ark of the Covenant because Hitler coveted its power, in this flashback they are looking for something almost as legendary: a compass-like dial from the Ancient Greek scientist/mathematician Archimedes.

But the now of this movie takes place in the summer of the first moon landing, 1969, and Indy is being grumpy at his retirement party (which, oddly, occurs before the end of the semester, despite his just having told his bored students what will be in their exam, but okay).

Basil’s daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) surprises Indy, who has not seen her since she was a little girl. Her father’s obsession with Archimedes’ dial ruined his life. But Helena is now looking for it, too. And so is that Nazi officer (Mads Mikkelse), who, like Werhner von Bron, was brought to America instead of tried for war crimes, because his scientific knowledge was essential to the development of the space program.

As with the third and fourth films, we get just enough about what is going on with Indy to add some emotional heft to all of the action scenes. We learn why he is estranged from Marian (Karen Allen). We learn about his relationship with Basil and Helena and some regrets he may feel about all three of them. We also get to catch up briefly with some friends from the earlier films, including the warmhearted Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and his family. There are some callbacks to the earlier films, and of course one of the all-time classic John Williams movie scores, guaranteed to make pulses race. Are there snakes? You’ll just have to wait and see.

And of course we have lots of action. The opening chase scene on and on top of a train is everything we hope for in an Indiana Jones movie, witty, exciting, well-paced. Director James Mangold (“Logan,” “Walk the Line”) ably takes over for Steven Spielberg, with inventive stunts making the most of the props and settings. One under-water section is not as effective as the high-speed chases. There are some poor and tonally inconsistent choices about outcomes for some characters and a switch of allegiance that is not adequately supported by the storyline. There is an un-earned death of a character that takes us out of the film and it takes a leap near the end that did not always work for me. But we’re there to see Harrison Ford, with hat and whip, dazzle us with his action scenes and pure star power, and that is more valuable than an ancient treasure.

Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and action-style violence, with characters injured and killed. There are references to a sad death of an adult son in combat and a sad death of a parent due to a preoccupation that took over his life. Characters use strong language and drink some alcohol.

Family discussion: If you could go back in time, what time would you pick? How has Indy changed over the years? Which is your favorite Indiana Jones movie and why?

If you like this, try: the other Indiana Jones movies

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For Father’s Day: Documentarians Make Movies About Their Own Fathers

Posted on June 16, 2023 at 3:03 pm

Copyright Asset 1999
Once you’ve watched the feature films with the most memorable fathers, take a look at these documentaries from a small but impressive sub-genre, movies made by directors about their own real-life fathers, mostly famous, some contentious or sorrowful, all thoughtful and illuminating, reflecting one of what can be life’s most complicated and freighted relationships.

Tell Them Who You Are: Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler is profiled by his son, Mark. In one memorable scene, the elder Wexler tries to direct his son. It does not go well.

Five Wives, Three Secretaries, and Me Tessa Blake tells the story of her father and, as the title indicates, eight of the women in his life. By the way, those wives all get along together just fine.

Quincy: One of the most talented musicians and producers of the last half-century is profiled by his daughter, writer/actress Rashida Jones.

My Architect: the son of Louis Kahn explores his father’s legacy. Roger Ebert wrote, “The movie begins as the story of a son searching for his father, and ends as the story of the father searching for himself.”

The Man Nobody Knew: The life of CIA spymaster William Colby is explored by his son. He was controversial in life, revealing abuses by his agency including assassination plots, and his son’t suggestion here that his death was a suicide is still being debated.

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Free for Father’s Day! My eBook About the Best Movie Dads

Posted on June 16, 2023 at 12:01 am

In honor of Father’s Day, my eBook, 50 Must-See Movies: Fathers is FREE today through Father’s Day, this weekend, June 16-19, 2023.

What do “Wall Street” and the “Star Wars” saga and, seemingly, about half the movies ever made have in common? They are about fathers. In “Wall Street,” Charlie Sheen plays the ambitious Bud, who respects the integrity of his blue-collar father, played by his real-life father, Martin Sheen. But Bud is dazzled by the money and power and energy of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). The movie will up the ante with Bud’s father’s heart attack as we see him struggle between the examples and guidance of these two male role models.

Copyright 20th Century Fox 1977

In “Star Wars,” Luke (Mark Hamill) does not know until halfway through the original trilogy that (spoiler alert) the evil Darth Vader is his father. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, who are killed very early in the first film, but the father figures who are most meaningful in his life are the Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Like Bud in “Wall Street,” Luke must choose between the good and bad father figures. Like Luke, Harry Potter is raised by an aunt and uncle, but he finds a true father figure later. For Harry, it is headmaster Albus Dumbledore. In opposition is He Who Must Not Be Named. Like Luke, Harry has the opportunity for great power on the dark side, but he lives up to the example set for him by Dumbledore.

The first stories ever recorded are about fathers. The central human struggle to reconcile the need for a father’s approval and the need to out-do him is reflected in the “hero of a thousand faces” myths that occur in every culture. In Greek mythology, Zeus is the son of a god who swallowed his children to prevent them from besting him. Zeus, hidden by his mother, grows up to defeat his father and become the king of the gods. Ancient Greece also produced the story of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, and The Odyssey, whose narrator tells us “it is a wise man who knows his own father.”

These themes continue to be reflected in contemporary storytelling, including films that explore every aspect of the relationship between fathers and their children. There are kind, understanding fathers whose guidance and example is foundation for the way their children see the world. There are cruel, withholding fathers who leave scars and pain that their children spend the rest of their lives trying to heal.

There are movies that reflect the off-screen real-life father-child relationships. Martin Sheen not only played his son’s father in “Wall Street;” he played the father of his other son, Emilio Estevez, in “The Way,” which was written and directed by Estevez, and which is about a father grieving the loss of his son. Will Smith has appeared with his son Jaden in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “After Earth.” John Mills appeared with his daughter Hayley in “Tiger Bay,” “The Truth About Spring,” and “The Chalk Garden.” Ryan and Tatum O’Neill memorably appeared together in “Paper Moon.” Jane Fonda produced and starred in “On Golden Pond” and cast her father Henry as the estranged father of her character. Jon Voight played the father of his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie in “Tomb Raider.” And Mario Van Peebles, whose father cast him as the younger version of the character he played in “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” made a movie about the making of that film when he grew up. It is called “Badasssss!” In the role of Melvin Van Peebles the son cast himself as his father.

Director John Huston deserves some sort of special Father’s Day award. He directed both his father and his daughter in Oscar-winning performances, Walter Huston in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and Anjelica Huston in “Prizzi’s Honor.”

Some actors known for very non-paternal roles have delivered very touching performances as fathers. Edward G. Robinson is best remembered for playing tough guys, but in “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” he gave a beautiful performance as a farmer who loves his daughter (Margaret O’Brien) deeply. Cary Grant, known for sophisticated romance, played loving – if often frustrated — fathers in “Houseboat” and “Room for One More.” “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” star Michael Keaton was also “Mr. Mom.” Comedian Albert Brooks is a devoted father in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.” Steve Martin was a devoted father in “Parenthood” and “A Simple Twist of Fate.” Robert De Niro was a complicated but loving father in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

There are memorable movie fathers in comedies (“Austin Powers,” “A Christmas Story”) and dramas (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Boyz N the Hood”), in classics (“Gone With the Wind”), documentaries (“Chimpanzee,” “The Other F Word”), and animation (“The Lion King,” “The Incredibles”). There are great fathers (“Andy Hardy,” “Call Me By Your Name”) and terrible fathers (“The Shining,” “Winter’s Bone,” “The Spectacular Now,” “The Barretts of Wimpole Street”). There are fathers who take care of us, as well as they can (“John Q,” “Toni Erdnmann,” “Lorenzo’s Oil,” “Leave No Trace,” “The Road,” “Extraordinary Measures”) and fathers we have to take care of (“I Never Sang for My Father,” “Nothing in Common”). All of these stories are ways to try to understand, to reconcile, and to pay tribute to the men who, for better or worse, set our first example of how to decide who we are and what we will mean in the world.

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The Flash

Posted on June 15, 2023 at 5:16 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some strong language and partial nudity
Profanity: Some strong language, several s-words, one f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book action peril and violence, injuries and sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 15, 2023

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers
“The Flash” is centered in the sweet spot between action, comedy, and heart because is is grounded in a deep affection for the source material but is not afraid to play with some of its absurdities. I’m going to tread very carefully to avoid spoilers (and alert you to what I hope will be just two of the jokes in this review), but if you want to go into the film knowing nothing, including what is in the trailer, come back and read this after you’ve seen it.

Ezra Miller shows no signs of the instability that has led to troubling behavior and disturbing headlines in his excellent performance as not one but two Barry Allens. The storyline allows for something of an origin story without the too-often superhero film mistake of making it all about the adjustment to the use and purpose of superpowers and attendant vulnerabilities. We first see Barry Allen (Flash’s secret identity) trying to get a high-protein sandwich at a cafe counter. He is, unsurprisingly, in a hurry because first, he is running late, and two, as a result of the energy he burns in his super-fastness requires a lot of food for fuel. It’s not quite like Popeye and spinach, but it’s not not like it, either.

Barry is awkward and shy. He works as a forensic scientist, looking at evidence from crime scenes. And he is hoping to exonerate his father, Henry (Ron Livingston), who is in prison for murdering his wife, Barry’s mother, when Barry was a child. Barry knows his father is innocent, and is hoping that his friend Bruce (Batman) Wayne (Ben Affleck) can help him with a crucial piece of evidence, security camera footage from a grocery store that would substantiate Henry’s alibi. But the enhanced clarity of the tape, shot from above, does not show Henry’s face, only his baseball cap. Barry, devastated, goes for such an intensive run that he passes the speed of light and goes back in time. If he can do that, he reasons, maybe he can go back further and prevent his mother’s murder. Bruce Wayne warns him it is a big mistake. Butterfly effect, etc. He, of course, knows very well what it is like to have your entire live defined by a devastating childhood loss.

Barry cannot resist. And that is when things start to scramble. First, one very small choice somehow had a lot of major repercussions, some strangely random. Somehow, instead of Michael J. Fox coming in to replace him, the original star of “Back to the Future,” Eric Stoltz, stayed in the role. The people he knows from his timeline are either not there or very different. And second, Barry misjudged and instead of returning to the present, he finds himself 10 years ago, which means, yes, that his teen-age self is there, too. The interaction between the two Barrys (both played by Miller), one formed by the murder of his mother and wrongful conviction of his father and one who grew up in a home with intact, loving parents, is at the heart of the film. In fact, the villain (Michael Shannon as Kryptonian bad guy General Zod) is almost an afterthought in this film, relying on our remembering him and his whole deal from previous encounters.

Instead, the movie is more about Barry, both Barrys, their interaction and their growing understanding of their situation and, if it can be put this way, each other. From a small, witty hiccup in the presentation of the movie’s title to the throwaway lines about other anomalies in the pile of spaghetti that is what happens when you splinter linear time, to some funny cameos (Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth provides one of the film’s best moments), the film is more interested in concept and character than mayhem.

That’s a good thing as the mayhem is more serviceable than memorable. This is a movie that is more about the people than the powers, and that is a superpower worth having.

Parents should know that this film includes brief non-sexual male nudity (bare tush), some strong language (s-words and one f-word), and extended comic book-style peril and action violence, with injuries and some sad deaths.

Family discussion: What one small decision have you made that had a surprisingly big impact on your life? If you could go back in time ten years, what advice would you give yourself?

If you like this, try; Other time-warp movies like “Back to the Future” with Michael J. Fox and “Frequency” as well as other DC Comics movies

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