Kinds of Kindness

Kinds of Kindness

Posted on June 27, 2024 at 5:15 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking, characters drugged for abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Explicit, disturbing violence including self-mutilation, suicide, and rape, very graphic and shocking images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 28, 2024
Copyright 2024 Searchlight

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is more interested in shock and sensation than story or character. He reunites with his “Poor Things” stars Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe and his “The Lobster,” “Dogtooth,” and “Killing of a Sacred Deer” co-screenwriter Efthymis Filippou for “Kinds of Kindness,” which is not about kindness at all but about obsession, dominance, and sacrifice. In its almost three-hour run time it features self-mutilation, suicide, murder, rape, a valuable broken tennis racket, and a cult centered around a notion of purity, a sweat lodge, and the possibility of reviving the dead. And it features a repertory cast of actors playing different characters in three otherwise unrelated stories, each appearing with a title referring to “R.B.F.”

Those initials are glimpsed onscreen just once, at the beginning of the film. “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” by Eurythmics intones on the soundtrack, telling us what is ahead: “Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused.” There are many symbolic allusions throughout, though most gesture toward meaning rather than attempting it. Like these: There is a street named Perdido (lost). A close-up of two mouths kissing is so extreme it may make you wonder how humans ever got started with it. There is the novel Anna Karenina. That broken tennis racket was smashed during a game by John McEnroe. There’s also a cracked helmet worn in a race by Ayrton Senna. We see a blue pick-up truck, and then two more just like it.

The first story is titled: “The Death of RMF.” A man comes to the door of a luxurious home and is let in by a beautiful young woman (Margaret Qualley) wearing a very short silk robe. She describes what he is wearing to someone over the phone, including the monogram on his shirt: RMF, which she initially mistakes for BMF, explaining that the embroidery is poorly done. The person on the other end of the phone is Raymond (Dafoe), wealthy, powerful, and obsessively concerned with controlling the most intimate details of everyone around him. One of those is Robert (Jesse Plemons), an executive in Raymond’s construction business, who lives in a modern mansion with his wife, Sarah (Hong Chau). Robert receives a hand-written note card with a minute-by-minute description of his day, from the socks, shoes, and suit he must wear to when he must and must not have sex with his wife. Robert for the first time, after ten years, tries to say no to Raymond when his first attempt to complete a dangerous, possibly deadly, task, is unsuccessful. This is when we find out what Raymond is willing to do, how much he is willing to debase himself by pleading, lying, stealing, harming himself, and worse.

“RMF is Flying” is the title of the second story, with Plemons as a police officer named Daniel whose wife, Liz (Emma Stone) is missing with her colleagues who were on a marine research trip. Daniel cannot think of anything else, worrying about what she is eating, imaging that a suspect in the police station looks like her. His partner and best friend is Neil (Mamoudou Athie), married to Martha (Qualley). They do their best to provide comfort and support, but Daniel is inconsolable. And then Liz returns. But Daniel believes something is wrong, and this being who looks and sounds like Liz cannot possibly be his wife.

The title of the third story is “RMF Eats a Sandwich.” This time, Stone plays Emily and Plemons is Andrew. They are testing young women on behalf of a group we will learn about. This is so important to her that she has left her husband, Joseph (Joe Alwyn) and the daughter they just call The Little One (Merah Benoit).

The screenplay relies heavily on the shock value, the performances and the production design by Anthony Gasparro to make the movie seem weightier than it is. And when that’s not enough, it winks at the audience to let us know that it just doesn’t care.

NOTE: Stay into the credits to see a bit more. Stone’s dance is every bit as good as the one that was a highlight of “Poor Things.”

Parents should know that this movie has pervasive adult material including sexual references and explicit situations, nudity, very strong language, alcohol and smoking, and graphic and disturbing images including suicide, murder and police shooting an unarmed man.

Family discussion: Why does Robert do want Raymond tells him to do? Why do Emily and Andrew do what Omi and Aka tell them to do? Why does the tennis racket mean so much to Sarah and so little to the people who buy it? How do you decide who you trust? Who is RMF and why does he matter to these stories?

If you like this, try: “The Lobster” and “Poor Things”

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Posted on June 20, 2024 at 9:34 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language
Profanity: Strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2024

It is a joy to watch “Thelma,” inspired by the love writer/director Josh Margolin has for his own Thelma, his now-103-year-old grandmother we get a glimpse of over the closing credits. And it is a joy to watch 95-year-old June Squibb, the best thing in too many movies, in a first-time lead role, and a lead role in an action movie to boot. Squibb gives a performance of endless charm and wit as a loving grandmother who gets scammed and then deliciously, hilariously, and very satisfyingly, gets revenge.

Copyright 2024 Magnolia

Thelma and her grandson Daniel (Fred Hechinger) have a warm, loving relationship. We first see him in the classic grandchild role of guide to computers and the internet, with endless patience and good humor. They are very comfortable together and show tender concern for one another, but they are not always honest. Each wants the other to think they are busier and more secure than they really are. Before he leaves, he insists she put on a life alert, which she removes after he’s gone. And she assures him she has plenty to do, but she does not.

The real Thelma got one of those scam calls from someone pretending to be her grandson, saying he was in jail and needed cash to bail him out and her family stopped her before she sent any money. But the movie Thelma gets so upset she races to the post office with cash in an envelope and mails it. When she finds out she has been tricked, she is determined to get her money back.

This requires her to visit two friends, first a retirement home to visit Ben (a charming Richard Roundtree in his final role), an old friend who has a romantic interest in her that she does not reciprocate. He does have something she wants, though, a scooter, which she will need to get around. He insists on coming with her, even though he is starring as Daddy Warlocks in “Annie” at the retirement home that night. Together they visit Mona (a sweetly dotty Bunny Levine), who has a gun in a box on top of an armoire in her bedroom. Ben has to distract her and Thelma has to figure out a way to reach it.

And then they’re off, on the motorized scooter, for a wild adventure that I will not spoil, except to say that her determination and quick thinking are great fun. This is an action movie where the vehicle’s top speed is 25 mph and does not go very far before it needs to be recharged. When Thelma and Ben do the classic action movie slo-mo walk away from an explosion, it’s not because they are tough and cool; it’s probably because they are hard of hearing and do not know it happened. And yet, it is genuinely exciting. You want to argue with me that it is not realistic? Dude, it is as realistic as a street racer flying a car out of a skyscraper and disarming bombs or a hotel that caters only to assassins.

Squibb, who did some of her own stunts, uses every wrinkle on her face to show us Thelma’s fierce independence, love for her grandson, and refusal to give up on her money, on her justice, and on proving that she can take care of herself. Parker Posey and Clark Gregg as Thelma’s daughter and son-in-law and Daniel’s parents are terrific as the middle of the concern sandwich and Malcolm McDowell is most welcome as another wily senior.

This is everything you’d hope from a festival favorite, smart, fun, funny, and heartwarming. I’d love to see a sequel. There are a lot of scammers out there and not enough Thelmas or Squibbs.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language for a PG-13, con artists, some peril, references to and depictions of ailments and predicaments of the elderly, a gun, an explosion, and family stress

Family discussion: Why don’t we see more movies about elderly people? Why is Daniel so close to Thelma? Ask the older relatives in your family about their adventures.

If you like this, try: “Lucky Grandma”

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The Bikeriders

The Bikeriders

Posted on June 20, 2024 at 5:25 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, violence, some drug use and brief sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language, constant f-words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, constant smoking, marijuana, brief image of character using heroin
Violence/ Scariness: Very strong and graphic violence, fights, knives, guns, accidents, attempted rape, characters injured and killed, disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Toxic masculinity
Date Released to Theaters: June 21, 2024
The Bikeriders
Copyright 2024 Focus

Writer/director Jeff Nichols tells the story of a Chicago motorcycle gang through the recorded interviews of Kathy (Jodie Comer), who married one of the Vandals five weeks after meeting him, and stayed with him through the brawls, arrests, and accidents. “The Bikeriders” is based on the book of photographs by Danny Lyons, who followed the Vandals from 1965-73. Lyons is played in the film by Mike Faist, who makes the most of a role that is mostly listening while holding a microphone from a reel-to-reel recorder, showing Lyons as curious but sympathetic.

The bike rider Kathy married is Benny (Austin Butler), who we first see refusing the demand of two very big guys in a bar, who tell him to remove his “colors,” the denim gang jacket with the patch on the front of a hand giving the finger and the gang’s name and a skull on the back. He is badly beaten (we find out how badly when the scene recurs after a flashback that brings us up to that date). As we learn with Kathy, Benny’s core attribute is that nothing matters to him but riding with the Vandals.

The leader of the bikeriders is Johnny (Tom Hardy), the only one who has a job and a family. He saw Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” on television, responding to the question, “What are you rebelling against?” with the essence of cool, “Whatdaya got?” He creates The Vandals, and like the Jets in “West Side Story” and the goodfellas in the movie of that name, it becomes a family for its members, with a sense of belonging, of home, of manhood.

And as in so many other stories, and so many other lives, it is great until it is not. The success of the Vandals inspires other bikeriders in other areas to want to join. And then it inspires a younger generation to want to join, and to be tougher and take bigger risks than Johnny’s original group. That group smoked cigarettes and drank beer. The Vietnam veterans who join smoke weed and sometimes shoot heroin.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols said that the most interesting character in the book is Kathy. Her tape-recorded interviews with Lyons were unusually candid and her perspective as an outsider who saw everything and spent much of her time with the Vandals but was not a part of them appealed to him, and he decided to tell the story from her perspective, making one big change. He set up something of a love triangle, with the Vandals being the third side. A key scene in the film has Kathy asking Johnny to kick Benny out of the Vandals so she can have him all to herself.

The movie is shot superbly by Adam Stone, with powerful images throughout. A lone cycle running out of gas by a cornfield. An intimate conversation between Benny and Johnny, illuminated by firelight. Every performance is outstanding. Jodie Comer delivers another impeccable accent, and she makes Kathy simple but not unintelligent. She does not spend time thinking about motivations or consequences, but she is direct and honest, making her an idea navigator for Lyons and for us. As Benny, Butler has a challenge in playing a character who is not expressive. But he shows us how magnetic he is for both Kathy and the Vandals. When he recognizes his limits and when he finally shows some emotion, Butler makes it organic and meaningful. There is strong support from Michael Shannon and a near-unrecognizable Norman Reedus as bikeriders.

The film may not be as meaningful as Nichols intends, but it is a strong story, well-told, and worth the ride.

Parents should know that this fact-based movie is very violent, with characters injured and killed and disturbing and graphic images, including brawls, knives, guns, accidents, and attempted rape. Characters use constant strong language, drink, smoke, and use marijuana and, briefly, heroin.

Family discussion: What did the club mean to Johnny? To Benny? To the younger people who joined?

If you like this, try: “Goodfellas,” “The Wild One,” “Biker Boyz,” and “Why We Ride” and Lyons’ book.

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Inside Out 2

Inside Out 2

Posted on June 12, 2024 at 2:43 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and chaos, plus teen angst
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 14, 2024
Copyright 2024 Disney/Pixar

Okay, Pixar, you got me. I cried and laughed within the first ten minutes of “Inside Out 2,” an adorable, heartwarming and fully up-to-the-original sequel to the beloved story of Riley and her middle school emotions. And then I cried two more times and laughed many times. Okay, maybe there might have been a little PTSD about being an adolescent and living with a few, but this movie is so brimming with empathy and understanding, I think there was some healing, too.

In the midst of the colorful, endearing characters and witty screenplay of the first film, there was the kind of insight it could take years of therapy to discover. The characters were the emotions Riley feels: Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Tony Hale replacing Bill Hader), and Disgust (Liza Lapira replacing Mindy Kaling). What they learn, so we do, too, is that what may feel like disturbing or negative emotions are necessary to keep us safe and help us understand the world around us.

As the movie begins, Riley is feeling like she has it all together. She’s gotten a lot taller. She has braces and feels confident about herself and her friendships, getting really good at ice hockey, invited to a three day elite hockey camp by the coach at the high school she will be attending. She’s a teenager now, blowing the candles on her 13th birthday cake. If she doesn’t know what’s coming yet, her face does. There’s a pimple coming on her chin. And for the first time, she wakes up feeling insecure and under too much pressure.

But then the console inside her head suddenly has a big, red, button labeled “Puberty.” And a group of very unsettling new emotions arrive: Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ado Edibiri), Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser), and Ennui (Adèle Exarchopoulos). I absolutely love the idea that this movie will inspire a bunch of 8-year-old to tell their parents they are experiencing an emotion usually associated with characters in novels by Sartre or Sagan.

Joy is very distressed by the new emotions, especially Anxiety, who seems to think she should be in charge. She explains that while Fear makes Riley afraid of what she can see, Anxiety makes her afraid of what might happen, and indeed, later in the film, we see an entire bullpen sitting at desks like those of the old-school Disney animators, imagining everything that might go wrong.

As they did before, Pixar has personified and made literal an array of internal and abstract concepts with wit, charm, and telling detail. Erik Erickson and Karl Jung would be impressed. The stream of consciousness is an actual stream. That hallmark of this stage of development, sarcasm (sorry, parents, try to think of it as an emblem of developing appreciation of layers of meaning), is an actual chasm. Nostalgia is a patient, elderly woman (June Squibb) who has to be told to go back to her room until she is needed, after “a couple of graduations and a best friend’s wedding.” Construction workers arrive for “demo day” to take out the old console, a moment that rivals the dissolving of Bing Bong in the first film. Memory, buried secrets, beliefs, sense of self, are all brilliantly imagined. The emotion characters zoom in on Riley’s friends’ faces to decipher their expressions, the kinds of details a younger person might overlook. We also get to see a hilarious “Blue’s Clues” or “Dora the Explorer”-like cartoon character from Riley’s early childhood, named Bloofy (Ron Funches), who asks the audience to help him solve problems.

And as in the first, the voice talent is superb. Poehler is just right for Joy’s natural energy and ebullient enthusiasm, sometimes masking her own anxious feelings about keeping everyone confident and happy. Hawke’s slightly husky voice is perfect for Anxiety, who gives us a glimpse of her own confidence and even joy in giving Riley the tools she needs to navigate the challenges of adolescence. We can see the anxiousness in Joy and the joy in Anxiety as Riley moves toward integration of the emotions, with a very sweet moment as both the hockey players and the emotions move toward teamwork. It is a treat to hear Paula Pell as the anger inside Riley’s mom and Pixar completists might recognize the voice of “Inside Out’s” director and this film’s executive producer, Pete Docter, as Riley’s Dad’s anger. The reference to his home state of Minnesota is another nod.

Screenwriters Dave Holstein and Meg LeFauve and director Kelsey Mann were advised by a teams of experts, including psychologists and the real experts, teenage girls. This film is an exciting adventure of the heart and spirit and I look forward to happily crying through it again.

NOTE: Stay ALL the way to the end of the credits for an extra scene

Parents should know that this film has a lot of teenage angst and some mild schoolyard language. They should also know it will have a powerful impact on the parents as they remember their own adolescence and consider the emotions they fell over their children growing up.

Family discussion: How do each of the emotions help Riley? Ask members of the family how they learned to solve problems.

If you like this, try: “Inside Out” and “Everybody Rides the Carousel”

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Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Posted on June 4, 2024 at 3:29 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence, language throughout and some sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drug dealers
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very gory violence, many characters injured and killed, knives, pistols and. machine guns, chases, explosions, fire, alligator
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 7, 2024
Copyright Sony 2024

What’cha going to do? You’re going to go see this silly summer movie because it has Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, a lot of winks and in-jokes, and some eye-popping chases and explosions. Plus, a very funny joke featuring a country superstar.

The original Bad Boys starred two very popular television actors and cast them against type as cops. Real-life homebody Will Smith was the playa with the cool car and real-life sometime-volatile Martin Lawrence played the devoted family man. The film was an exemplar of the buddy cop genre along with “Lethal Weapon,” balancing between wild, stunt-tastic action sequences and the chemistry between the two performers, both exceptionally good at bickering repartee with an underpinning of understanding and dedication to the job and to each other. There’s a reason almost 30 years after the first one, we’re up to number four, with the last one called “Bad Boys for Life” and this one “Ride or Die.”

Produced by too-much-action-is- never-enough Jerry Bruckheimer and the two stars, this latest episode has plenty to reward the fans, starting from the opening, which harks back to chapter one with Mike (Smith) terrifying Marcus (Lawrence) by driving his flashy car at top speed through the streets of Miami. Marcus insists on stopping for some ginger ale to settle his stomach. Mike tells him he has just 90 seconds at a convenience store and better not buy anything else. And of course Marcus is in the middle of buying two things he perpetually craves, Skittles and a hot dog with everything when a robber with very unfortunate timing decides to hold up the cashier. Exciting and comic confrontation ensues, and we are solidly in the land of the perpetual Bad Boys. No one would even think of trying to call them Bad Men.

The only element that might count as a surprise in this film is what the Bad Boys are racing toward in that first scene. It is a wedding, not of one of Marcus’ children (we’ve already seen that his daughter Megan is married to Reggie, played by Dennis Greene) but of ladies’ man Mike, marrying Christine (Melanie Liburd), the beautiful physical therapist who helped him heal after he was shot in the third film. Pretty soon, for reasons no one needs to worry about or remember, Mike and Marcus are being hunted down by both good and bad guys and they are reunited with the son Mike first found out about in chapter 3, the drug dealer and assassin now in prison, but not really a bad guy at heart.

The filmmakers, including screenwriter of the original film George Gallo, paid more attention to the details of the earlier chapters than the audience ever did. The most devoted fans will recognize characters and plot points from chapters 1-3. There is another cameo from Michael Bay, a brief return of the character played by DJ Khaled, a posthumous appearance by the Bad Boys’ beloved Captain Howard, played by the very much still alive Joe Pantoliano, and, the scene that got the most cheers from the audience, an opportunity at last for Reggie to show what a Marine can do. Smith and Lawrence still pack a lot of star power. But the film criminally misuses Tiffany Haddish in a thankless and unfunny role. She looks good, though.

But most ticket-buyers will just be there to see the chases and explosions, which are as chase-y and explosion-y as anyone could hope for, along with shoot-outs, stabbing, and let me just put it this way, (spoiler alert, but not too much) when they Scooby-Doo a climactic confrontation in an abandoned amusement park and happen to mention that “legend has it” the park’s famous gigantic albino alligator named Duke is still swimming around the area, you can bet Duke will make an appearance. Or two. Just like you can bet we’ll be seeing “Bad Boys 5” before too long.

Parents should know that this is a very violent movie with many characters injured and killed and many graphic and disturbing images. There are many chases and explosions and fires, guns, including machine guns, knives, punches, and an alligator. Characters use strong and very crude language and there are crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Why have Mike and Marcus remained partners? Which character would you most like to be like?

If you like this, try: the other “Bad Boys” movies and the “Letha Weapon” series

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