Nell Minow on the Don Rosen Show: Summer 2024 Movies, The Godfather, DVD Libraries, and More

Posted on May 6, 2024 at 8:52 pm

Many thanks to Don Rosen for inviting me on his radio program for a long talk about the movies we’re expecting this summer, “The Godfather” and its sequels, having Jerry Seinfeld as a kindergarten classmate (Don) and meeting President Kennedy (me).

You can hear the interview as a podcast here.

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The Fall Guy

Posted on May 1, 2024 at 10:00 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for action and violence, drug content and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, jokes about getting tipsy, drug use, including hallucinations
Violence/ Scariness: Extended real and fictional peril and action, fights, guns and other weapons, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 3, 2024

“The Fall Guy” is a love letter to movie-making, to all of the work, all of the heart, all of the expertise from hundreds of people that goes into telling our stories. It is a love letter to the audience, filled with action, romance, comedy, impossibly gorgeous, magnificently talented ,and endlessly charismatic performers, and with joy. Most of all, it is a love letter to the unsung heroes who do the crazy daredevil stunts that make the world’s most beloved movie stars look athletic and courageous. It is pure popcorn pleasure and I cannot wait to see it again.

There’s just a tincture of the 80s television series that lends its name, its theme song, character name, and a brief cameo from its star, Lee Majors). This is the story of stunt man Ryan Gosling as Colt Seavers, who is the long-time substitute for one of the world’s biggest Hollywood action stars, Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) when the script calls for anything that might be dangerous. The job of the stunt performers is to do the crazy things that make audiences gasp and cheer: cars rolling over, falls from great heights, fighting with fists, feet, and weapons, dangling from helicopters, racing speedboats. Basically, they get paid a minuscule fraction of what the star is paid to get all of the bruises, burns. and broken bones, do to it over and over, to make sure their faces do not show and ruin the illusion, and to give a thumbs-up to show that they are fine after every take.

Colt has a crush on a cinematographer and would-be director, Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt). But when Tom insists on a re-do of a fall from the top of a skyscraper atrium because he thinks too much of Colt’s chin was showing, something goes wrong and Colt is badly injured. Over the next 18 months, as he slowly recovers, he works as a parking valet and his relationship with Jody ends in hurt and disappointment.

And then Colt gets a call from Tom’s long-time producer, Gail Meyer (“Ted Lasso’s” Hannah Waddingham). Tom is making a huge sci-fi film in Australia and Gail wants Colt to do the stunts. He says no. She says Jody asked for him. He says, “Get me an aisle seat.”

Once he gets to Sydney, Gail tells Colt that Tom has disappeared and she wants Colt to find him. He also finds out that Jody did not ask for him because (1) she is surprised to see him and not happy about it and (2) she fires him. Literally. Like, she has him do a stunt where he’s on fire and gets slammed into a rock — three times.

There is so much more I’m longing to tell you about what happens next but I want you to have the pleasure of discovering it all for yourselves. I will just say that Gosling and Blunt have chemistry for days and are clearly having a blast perfecting the balance between action, comedy, romance, and mystery, there are dozens of sly jokes about Hollywood and filmmaking, Winston Duke is a dream as the stunt coordinator (if you have not seen him in “Black Panther” and “Nine Days” and “Us,” three roles that could not be more different, watch them!), there’s a stunt dog who only understands French, and while you may expect the stunts to be amazing, they are amazing times amazing. Real-life stunt performer-turned director David Leitch likes to take Hollywood’s handsomest leading men (Brad Pitt in “Bullet Train,” Gosling here) and make them scruffy and in need of a comeback, always a choice choice. Be sure to stay through the credits for behind the scenes footage of the real stunt performers and an extra scene.

Parents should know that this is an action film with extended real and fictional (stunt) peril and violence, with guns and other weapons, fight scenes, characters injured and killed, drinking and jokes about being tipsy, drugs, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What’s your go-to karaoke song and why? Why is it hard to apologize? Would you like to see the movie Colt and Jody are making?

If you like this, try: “The Stunt Man” (some mature material) with Peter O’Toole as the director of a WWI movie who impulsively hires an escaped convict as a stunt performer, and stunt-filled films like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Fast X” and another movie from this director, also with Taylor-Johnson, “Bullet Train”

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Challengers

Posted on April 25, 2024 at 5:07 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexual content, language throughout, and graphic nudity
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Character is injured
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 26, 2024

“Challengers” is about a love triangle set in the world of professional tennis. We follow the configurations of the various romantic and sexual encounters like we follow the ball being hurled over the net left to right, right to left. It is beautiful to watch, with cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, but more perfume commercial than story. The characters have almost no complexity, increased understanding, or consequences.

Zendaya, who also produced the film, plays Tashi, a young superstar turned coach after a knee injury. Art Donaldson (Mike Faist, Riff in Spielberg’s “West Side Story”) and Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor, young Prince Charles in “The Crown”) are best friends, doubles partners, and tennis boarding school roommates. All three are, even by movie star standards, impossibly gorgeous and erotically compelling. In their world, all that matters is using their physicality in the strongest, most competitive manner. This is the film that should be called “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies.”

As in his earlier films, like “Call Me By Your Name” and “Bones and All,” director Luca Guadagnino makes “Challengers” intensely charged with sensual pleasures and, in their more extreme form, obsessions. Unlike “Bones and All,” these characters are not literal cannibals. Only spiritual, metaphorical cannibals.

“I love you,” Art tells Tashi. “I know,” she answers. And not in an endearing Han Solo way. Early on in the film (but late in the timeline), we see her marking up a proposed ad featuring her and Art as coach and tennis champion, wife and husband. The text says “Game Changer.” She adds an s, giving herself equal prominence. In a later scene, a flashback set when Art and Tashi are in college and she and Patrick are in a relationship, she gives him feedback about his tennis game during foreplay. The sex never happens, though, because he does not want her to coach him. “I’m a peer,” he insists before they part in a fury. What he cannot seem to understand is that intensely competitive tennis is all she is.

Challengers trailer

The story takes us back and forth in time, and you have to watch the characters’ hair to remind yourself whether they are teenagers, college students, or in their early 30s, and who is sleeping with who. Note the A to Z in the male characters’ names, and their nickname during their doubles years, Fire and Ice, amplifying their opposition and connection. The three characters are like charged ions, pulled toward each other, unable to touch or to break away.

Parents should know that this is a very explicit and erotically charged film, with non-sexual male nudity (steam room, locker room), very strong language, smoking, and drinking.

Family discussion: How would the story have been different if Tashi had not been injured? Do you think she will try to make her daughter into a tennis star?

If you like this, try: “Personal Best” and “Malcolm and Marie”

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Bad Faith: Christian Nationalism’s Unholy War on Democracy

Posted on April 24, 2024 at 5:31 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: News images of violence including January 6, 2021
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 26, 2024

This is a very scary movie, and the scariest part is that the people it is about will never see themselves in it. At less than 90 minutes, it can only touch the surface of some of the issues behind the undermining of democracy by a toxic stew of billionaires seeking less regulation and more tax cuts, white evangelicals who have been persuaded that a holy war will put a stop to whatever previously gave them a sense of cultural primacy, and power brokers who recognize that their views are in the minority and the only way they can get the authority they want is a combination of disinformation and voter suppression. But it does a very good job of documenting history that will surprise even the most sophisticated political observers.

For example, most people tend to think that abortion fueled the uprising of white evangelicals groups that had previously had very little interest in politics and did not tie voting to faith. But directors Stephen Ujlaki and Christopher Jacob Jones make it clear that abortion was not the precipitating factor. It was a few years before, the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could deny tax-exempt status to schools with racially discriminatory policies. This struck at the heart of the evangelical groups led by people like Jerry Falwell, but they knew advocating for segregation was not a winning argument. They finally figured out that they could get the rank and file excited by using extremist language about reproductive health.

Later, attacks on various “woke” concepts like same-sex marriage, inclusion, and combatting climate change created opportunities for the wealthy to agitate the white evangelical base on their behalf.

This is a very traditional documentary, archival footage and experts. But the experts are exceptionally well chosen, starting with a blonde woman who begins by telling us that faith is the center of her life. We expect her to be one of the Christian nationalists the movie is about. Instead, she is a former official in the Trump-era Department of Homeland Security who, we see later, was aghast when President Trump refused to make the threat of domestic terrorism a priority. A minister whose faith leads him to support policies that help the poor and marginalized, another who was trained by a Christian nationalist group but left, and journalists and scholars with have deep knowledge in this area make some well-documented assessments. Longtime Republican consultant Steve Schmidt says what these people are working toward is Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale.” We learn about the “multi-facted operation of tremendous sophistication” used to spread mistrust and disinformation, funded by the ultra-wealthy and promoted by FOX and Sinclair Broadcasting, based on data mining of church rosters, not just of the names of members but of their most personal information and shared confidences.

But nothing is as chilling as the footage where we hear evangelical leaders and their political consultant counterparts say what they really think. They insist “America was founded as a Christian nation” (not true), that that concept of separation of church and state is not based in the Constitution but in a “stinkin’ letter” (Representative Lauren Boebert) (also not true), and that we need a “war” to impose a particular white Christian Protestant religion on everyone. And they answer a question many outside the white Christian evangelical world ask, why people of faith are so committed to Donald Trump, who promises to support them but whose life violates some of the values they say are essential; there are many in this group who do not want a man who follows Jesus. They want a chaos agent to undermine the most fundamental foundations of democracy, because democracy means majority rule and they know they cannot win that way.

Parents should know that this film includes discussions of bigotry, Christian nationalism, voter suppression, and abortion, with some footage of the insurrection on January 6, 2021.

Family discussion: What surprised you in this movie? Who did you find most trustworthy and why?

If you like this, try: “Slay the Dragon” (about gerrymandering), “All In: The Fight for Democracy,” “Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook,” “Answer the Call,” and other documentaries about attacks on democracy

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Happy Passover 2024/5784

Posted on April 21, 2024 at 9:08 pm

Have a blessed Passover!  Whether you’re on Zoom or socially distant in person, enjoy the holiday devoted to family, freedom, and courage. Dayanu!

The story of the exodus to freedom is for all ages. Alex Edelman has thoughts. (If you have not watched his special , “Just for Us” on HBO, please check it out.)

For family viewing: try It’s Passover Grover!, The Prince of Egypt, Rugrats Passover,  and The Ten Commandments

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Holidays
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