Celebrate Irish Actors on St. Patrick’s Day!

Posted on March 17, 2024 at 2:18 pm

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with movies starring some of the greatest stars in movie history.  If you haven’t seen all of these, you deserve a pinch!

Two of the most talented and charismatic up and coming actors, Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal, appeared in last year’s tenderest love story (about the love between parent and child as well as romantic love), “All of Us Strangers.”

Maureen O’Hara — her fiery red hair was made for technicolor and she was ideally cast opposite John Wayne in films like “The Quiet Man” and “McLintock.”  I especially loved her as the mom in “Miracle on 34th Street” and “The Parent Trap.”

Colin Farrell — he is electrifying as a bad guy but willing to go all out in a comedy like “Horrible Bosses” or the wonderfully weird “The Lobster.” I especially loved him as a sensitive gay man in “A Home at the End of the World,” and his appearance with Elmo on “Sesame Street.”

Saoirse Ronan — one of the most talented young stars working today, she first gained international stardom in “Atonement” and has shown astonishing range in films like “Hanna” and “Brooklyn.”

Liam Neeson — an Oscar winner for “Schindler’s List,” Neeson is equally at home in serious drama and in action films like “Taken.”

Pierce Brosnan — the most elegant of the James Bonds, Brosnan also played a very different kind of spy in “The Matador” and sang (or tried to) in “Mama Mia.”

Peter O’Toole — best known for “Lawrence of Arabia,” but his most endearing performance is probably the swashbuckling movie star guesting on a live television show in “My Favorite Year.” And don’t miss him as a movie director in “The Stunt Man” and an art expert turned thief in “How to Steal a Million.”

Jonathan Rhys Meyers — he was Henry VIII on HBO’s “The Tudors” and the soccer coach in “Bend it Like Beckham.”

Chris O’Dowd — Kristen Wiig could not resist him in “Bridesmaids,” and he was equally appealing in “Pirate Radio” and the British sitcom “The IT Crowd.”  He plays the manager of a girl group in “The Sapphires” and created the very funny series “Moone Boy.”

Daniel Day-Lewis — he played Abraham Lincoln, but he has also played real-life Irish icons Christy Brown (“My Left Foot”) and Gerry Conlon (“In the Name of the Father”).

Pat O’Brien — this dependable character actor starred as Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne.

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poster for American Dreamer

American Dreamer

Posted on March 14, 2024 at 5:28 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for disturbing material, violence, some strong sexual content, pervasive language, and drug use
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, sad death
Diversity Issues: Class issues

Sometimes an actor seems more interested in the role he wants to play than the movie he wants to make. Peter Dinklage is wonderful to watch as always in “American Dreamer” as an unhappy adjunct professor (meaning no benefits, no tenure, not even a parking spot) who is morose and cynical and yet somehow still appealing to the ladies. He’s opposite the always wonderful to watch legend Shirley MacLaine. Even so, the movie does not quite work.

Dinklage is the dreamer of the title, Dr. Phil Loder, who teaches “cultural economics.” In the opening scene, he tells his students that “we are now simply a collection of things we acquire.” He urges them not to define themselves in terms of their possessions and to seek true value in what cannot be bought and sold. He does not follow his own advice, though. He spends his free time scanning through real estate listings as though he was swiping right on a dating app. The houses he gazes at so lovingly are all way out of his price range. The realtor representing those high-end mansions is Dell (Matt Dillon), superficially smooth, professionally affable but with the heart of a cash register.

Dell is fed up with Phil, who comes to lavish open-houses and tells prospective buyers not to bid. Phil is fed up with pretty much everything, especially himself. And then he discovers an ad for a spectacularly beautiful mansion on the water with an unusual provision: the home is owned by an elderly woman. She is looking for someone who will pay her $250,000 to move into an apartment in the home and perform some caretaker duties, and then will inherit the entire property when she dies.

Dell investigates and tells Phil that the house is in immaculate condition and the owner is frail and has no children. Phil cashes in everything he has to raise the money. And then he finds out the deal is a not quite what he was promised. The owner is the spry Astrid Fanelli (Shirley MacLaine), who looks like she will outlive Phil and all of his 20-something students. And she keeps introducing him to her “kids,” including one who is an estate lawyer and tells Phil she will make sure he never gets the house.

The movie cannot decide if it is social commentary or a redemption story, and it does not quite work as either one. Still, lesser Dinklage is still worth a watch.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language, drinking and drunkenness, old age and a sad death, and sexual references and situations with brief non-sexual nudity.

Family discussion: Why was Phil so bitter? Why was he so insensitive to other people?

If you like this, try: “”She Came to Me,” “The Baxter,” “Cyrano,” and “The Station Agent,” better Dinklage films.

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Talking About the 2024 Oscars with Don Rosen

Posted on March 11, 2024 at 9:58 pm

It was a lot of fun to talk about last night’s Oscars with radio star Don Rosen!

HO_03095 (l-r.) Dominic Sessa stars as Angus Tully, Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Mary Lamb and Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham in director Alexander Payne’s THE HOLDOVERS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Seacia Pavao / © 2023 FOCUS FEATURES LLC
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Kung Fu Panda 4

Posted on March 7, 2024 at 6:33 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for martial arts action/mild violence, scary images and some mild rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style peril and martial arts fight scenes
Diversity Issues: None

Skidoosh! Jack Black returns as Po in the fourth chapter of the saga about the big-hearted panda who has become a kung fu master with the title of Dragon Warrior, and earned the gratitude of his community and the respect of his colleagues, the Furious Five. If you don’t know who they are, don’t worry; they are briefly seen and not heard (very expensive voice talent) in this film.

But there’s plenty of top-level voice talent anyway, with Dustin Hoffman returning as the red panda Master Shifu, Viola Davis as The Chameleon, Black’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” co-star Awkwafina as a fox named Zhen. Also returning are Po’s two dads, his adoptive father, the excitable Mr. Ping (James Hong) and the cuddly and fearful Li (Bryan Cranston), now close friends.

A brief prologue shows the return of the first villain Po defeated, Tai Lung (Ian McShane), apparently escaped from the spirit world determined “to take what is mine, which is everything that is yours.”

Po is happy as the movie begins. He is respected and beloved in his community and welcomes customers to Mr. Ping’s expanded restaurant. He signs autographs and poses for pictures (created with a paintbrush). He has accepted the staff of wisdom from Master Shifu without really thinking about what it means — that it is time for him to ascend to the next level, “passing on wisdom and inspiring hope,” and select a successor Dragon Warrior. Po is proud of achieving that title and reluctant to let it go. When he meditates on a new Dragon Warrior, his mind quickly moves from “inner peace” to “dinner, please.”

Tai Lung has not returned. That was an even more dangerous villain, The Chameleon, a shapeshifter with powerful magic. Po meets Zhen, a thief and a liar who grew up on the streets of Juniper City. She promises to bring him to The Chameleon. But can she be trusted?

This fourth chapter meets or exceeds the vibrance and heart of the first three films. The animation is superb, with outstandingly imagined settings, camera angles, styles, and action scenes. The gentle exploration of the conflicting feelings about growing up is sensitive and insightful. Awkwafina is, as always, funny and endearing in her portrayal of a character who is seeing what it means to be trustworthy and kind for the first time. The Chameleon, marvelously designed, with voice by Davis, is an excellent villain, imperious, steely, and ruthless. And there are a number of funny supporting characters, including Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan as the leader of the underground lair of thieves, and a trio of deceptively cute but secretly bloodthirsty little creatures. The balance between action and humor is just right, with a very funny bulls in a china shop moment and a precariously balanced tavern. And Po is, as always, an appealing hero, always on the side of helping others but still with more to learn.

Parents should know that this film includes extended action- and cartoon-style scenes of martial arts peril and violence, some schoolyard language (“screwed up,” etc.), and references to orphanhood and neglect. Some families may be sensitive to the portrayal of an adopted character who is equally devoted to his biological and adoptive father.

Family discussion:

If you like this, try: the other “Kung Fu Panda” movies and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” with Black and Awkwafina

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Posted on March 5, 2024 at 9:41 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some violence, language and smoking
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and alcoholism, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and violence including a fire, reference to suicide, dire poverty, loss of parents, serious illness
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie

Frances Xavier Cabrini was an Italian nun who became the first US citizen to be canonized as a saint. Sent to the US by the Pope in 1889, she established an order called the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and, despite poor health, she fought poverty, misogyny, and bigotry against Italian immigrants to establish schools, hospitals, orphans’ homes, and support services in several cities and countries.

This lush, respectful film stars Cristiana Dell’Anna as Mother Cabrini, David Morse as the Archbishop who sees her as a distraction who wants to divert his sources of funding, John Lithgow as the major of New York City who tries to stop her, and Giancarlo Giannini as the Pope who responds to her request to send her to do relief work in Africa by telling her she must go “not to the East but to the West.” He knows there is tremendous prejudice against the Italian immigrants in the US and no established welfare system for the poor or for children without parents.

Director and co-writer Alejandro Monteverde (“The Sound of Freedom”) has described the film as “a painting” of Cabrini’s life, and the sumptuous production values are breathtaking. Director of Cinematography Gorka Gómez Andreu makes every shot glow with light and life and production designer Carlos Lagunas creates 19th century Italy and New York so vibrantly we are utterly immersed in Mother Cabrini’s world. No expense was spared, no corners were cut, and so all of the many different locations are filled with fascinating detail.

The storyline is simple. People try to stop Mother Cabrini from helping her community and she does not give up. There are terrible setbacks — corruption, fire, her own physical frailty. There is prejudice, even contempt, for Italian immigrants. But she never loses faith and she never lessens her determination and resilience. Dell’Anna’s eyes are wonderfully expressive, and she makes the small woman in the severe habit a vital, moving presence.

Parents should know that this film includes dire poverty, bigotry, orphaned children, a reference to suicide, serious illness, and a fire.

Family discussion: Nuns are normally required to show humility and obedience. Why was Mother Cabrini different? What made her effective?

If you like this, try: “Mother Teresa: No Greater Love” and “The Two Popes”

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