The Last Duel

Posted on October 14, 2021 at 9:49 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very intense medieval combat violence, characters injured and killed, brutal rape, graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 15, 2021

Copyright 20th Century 2021
“The Last Duel” is well-intentioned but ponderous and pretentious. It wants to be about the different perceptions of its three main characters, telling the same story three times. But for the viewer it is about the different perceptions of its actor-screenwriters, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and its director, Ridley Scott, who seem to be making different movies. The screenwriters wanted to tell a story about honor, truth, misogyny, and justice. Scott wanted to tell a story about medieval combat. You can tell from the title which side won.

Like the classic “Rashomon,” this is the story of a rape and a death told from three different points of view. Damon and Affleck wrote the segments of the two male characters in the story, and the third segment, the point of view of the woman involved, was written by indie writer-director Nicole Holofcener.

It is based on real historical events, the last officially recognized “judicial duel,” meaning a battle to the death to determine the outcome of a trial, fought in France. The duel was fought in 1386, based on the notion that God would not let the combatant telling the truth lose the fight.

At one point the two men were friends, but they were very different. Jean de Carrouges (Damon) was a knight (he gets very angry when his hard-won title is not recognized). He was extremely brave and firmly dedicated to his ideals of honor. We first see him disobeying orders and going into battle to prevent the slaughter of innocent citizens. He was not educated and could not read or write his name. After his wife and son died, he married Marguerite (Jodie Comer) the daughter of a wealthy but disgraced (for supporting the losing side in the war) man. She was well-educated and they were genuinely affectionate and devoted.

Squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) was well-educated in languages, literature, and numbers. He was something of a libertine, encouraged by his patron (Affleck), Pierre d’Alençon, a powerful nobleman, after Le Gris ingratiated himself by straightening out the books and collecting the back taxes.

Marguerite tells her husband that when he was away Le Gris came to their home and raped her. Rape, at the time, was not considered an assault on the woman but a crime against the man in her life. She was seen as his property and it was he who was damaged by the degrading attack. Marguerite is encouraged not to tell anyone by her mother-in-law, who admits that she was once raped as well. To accuse a man so close to the nobility is dangerous. But de Carrouges has courage in life as he does in battle and a sense of honor — plus some more personal grievances against Le Gris — that will not allow him to pretend it did not happen. He knows Le Gris’ patron will protect him, so he takes the case to the king. And that is what takes us back to the joust we glimpse at the beginning of the film. If de Carrouges wins, that means God has protected him for telling the truth. If Le Gris wins, then he will be deemed to have told the truth and Marguerite will be burned for falsely accusing him.

Scott does a great job with the combat scenes and special credit goes to DP Dariusz Wolski and especially to the sound crew for some of the all-time great clanky sounds as swords strike shields and armor. Unfortunately, the dialogue is even more clanky. Affleck and Damon, whose Bahston townie talk in “Good Will Hunting” was both believable and exceptionally sharp, have made the dialogue in this film heavy with clumsy exposition. The reiteration of the story does not add as much as it thinks it does, and ultimately becomes tedious and heavy-handed. And the hair and make-up may be based on historic styles, but Affleck, as the louche embodiment of white privilege, has a blonde surfer look while Damon has an unfortunate mullet that goes with his unfortunately superficial character. This is the second time in a row that he has tried to convince us he’s an uneducated person of limited experience and both movies suffer from his efforts.

Parents should know that this film has strong, bloody violence with medieval combat and disturbing and grisly images. There is some strong language, explicit sexual situations with nudity and a brutal rape, and alcohol.

Family discussion: Why does de Carrouges decide to believe Marguerite? Given the ideas at the time, was his mother right?

If you like this, try: “Gladiator”

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Jungle Cruise

Posted on July 27, 2021 at 3:15 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence
Profanity: Some mild language and implied language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, animal gets drunk
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and aventure-style violence with grisly and graphic images, characters cursed and injured
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, themes of LGBQT and female empowerment
Date Released to Theaters: July 30, 2021

Copyright Disney 2021
Disney’s efforts to adapt theme park rides as narrative films have ranged from the genuinely entertaining (the original “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”) to the wildly uneven (“Tomorrowland”), to the almost unimaginably misconceived (“The Haunted Mansion,” “The Country Bears”). “Jungle Cruise,” based on one of Disney’s oldest and most beloved rides (despite some controversy over its updates due to racist and misogynistic displays), ranks among the second-tier “Pirates” movies. The best and the most problematic parts in the film are its efforts to replicate what made the first “Pirates” a huge hit. While it often captures the high-spirited energy of that film, it also comes across as an inferior copy.

If you have Disney+, you can see a terrific behind the scenes history of the original Jungle Cruise ride, overseen by Walt Disney himself. It takes park guests on a tour that covers some of the world’s great rivers, with guides who make a lot of corny jokes and scenes along the way of lost treasure, native artifacts, and animals. As noted, the ride has been updated over the years to eliminate the guns and caricatures of indigenous people and to emphasize naturalist explorers. The movie is set during the First World War but reflects contemporary sensibility as well, with references to colonialists, feminism, and homophobia.

Emily Blunt plays Lily, a PhD who is determined to find a legendary blossom in the Amazon that is said to be able to cure any disease. She believes it is more than a legend and has a map she thinks will take her to it. She is fearless about almost everything (we will find out one thing that scares her). Her brother MacGregor (British stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall) is not brave and feels very strongly about the luxuries civilization has to offer, but he agrees to go along with her. Before they can go, however, she will need to steal an ancient arrowhead that has the clues to the blossoms’ location.

While her brother speaks to the skeptical members of a London explorers’ club, she sneaks upstairs to the club’s archive to grab it. Someone else is trying to get it as well, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), the youngest son of the German Kaiser whose army is currently at war with France, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States. He follows Lily to South America. When she hires Captain Frank (Dwayne Johnson) to take her to the tree with the blossoms, Prince Joachim chases after them in a submarine, launching gunfire and torpedoes. Also after the blossoms are some 16th century conquistadors who have been cursed and are now decrepit, zombie-like souls who come alive, or rather alive-ish only when they are near the river. They need the blossoms to end the curse so they can die.

Production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos and Disney’s unparalleled team of artists have done their usual spectacular job of creating the world of this film, filled with details worth hitting a pause button to absorb. The stunts and action sequences are all skillfully done and very entertaining. The script is uneven, borrowing one of its key twists from the original “Pirates” and under-writing the characters. It is criminal to waste Paul Giamatti in a small role as a rival boat operator trying to put Frank out of business, and Plemons as an underwritten villain. No one has more screen charisma than Johnson and Blunt, and they bring all of it to their roles despite some inconsistency in the way they are conceived that makes some developments abrupt, especially a decision at the end that merits more complexity than we get. Even Blunt and Johnson are not able to muster a lot of chemistry between their characters. It doesn’t help that Frank keeps calling Lily “Pants” (because she is a woman wearing trousers, get it?) or “Lady” and she keeps calling him “Skippy.” Believe me, even the intentional groaner puns are better than that.

Parents should know that this movie has extended action-style peril and violence with swords, fights, guns, and torpedoes. Characters are cursed and there are disturbing and graphic images. Dangerous animals include a panther and snakes. Issues of prejudice against women and GLBT people and the crimes of colonialists are raised. Characters drink alcohol and an animal gets drunk. There is some mild language and some implied or almost-bad language.

Family discussion: Did Lily make the right choice at the end? How do we balance what helps the world with what helps one person? What would you go searching for?

If you like this, try: “The Mummy” with Brendan Fraser, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “The Missing Link” from LAIKA

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Movie Mom Discussing Desk Set on Christmas Actually Podcast

Posted on June 13, 2021 at 12:23 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 1958

It was such fun to talk about why the Tracy-Hepburn classic “Desk Set” is a classic Christmas movie on the “Christmas Actually” podcast with Collin Souter and Kerry Finegan.

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Moxie

Posted on March 2, 2021 at 12:42 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material, strong language, and some teen drinking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: References to rape, predatory behavior
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: March 3, 2021

Copyright 2021 Netflix
“It’s so nice not to be on anyone’s radar,” Vivian (Hadley Robinson) says to her BFF Claudia (Lauren Tsai). It’s the first day of school and we might detect just a hint of wistfulness in her voice. Everyone is waiting for The Ranking, an annual list of female students selected based on how attractive they are. Some are selected based on how attractive individual body parts are. So, there are names attached to “Most Bangable,” “Best Rack,” “Best Ass.” And presumably the young women are supposed to feel flattered.

Vivian is shy and unsure of herself. Asked to write an essay on what she is passionate about and what steps she has taken to pursue it, she draws a blank. But we see in a dream she has the night before school starts, she has some strong feelings she does not know how to express. The arrival of a new student named Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) will give her a new perspective and help her find her voice.

The school’s alpha male is Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), arrogant and predatory. But his behavior is dismissed by the school’s principal (Marcia Gay Harden as Ms. Shelley) and the students. When he finds he cannot intimidate Lucy, he becomes even more aggressive. Vivian tells Lucy to ignore him so he will move on to someone else. “Keep your head down,” she advises. Lucy says she will be keeping her head up, and Vivian for the first time considers how pernicious the behavior of Mitchell and his friends is. It is more than teasing.

Vivian is close to her single mom, Lisa, played by director/producer Amy Poehler. When Lisa says that at Vivian’s age she was trying to burn down the patriarchy (crucially, she admits that as engaged as she was, she made a lot of mistakes and was not as inclusive as she should have been). Vivian goes through Lisa’s old files and sees the “zine” she and her friends created. And so Vivian follows in that tradition (and in the tradition of “Bridgerton’s” Lady Whistldown and A in “Pretty Little Liars”), Vivian creates an anonymous zine called Moxie (1930s slang for spirited determination), calling out the behavior of the boys who publish the rankings and insult girls. She leaves copies in the girls’ rooms at school, asking everyone who supports her ideas to draw stars and hearts on their hands. And some of the girls too. So does one boy, Seth (Nico Hiraga of “Booksmart” and “Edge of Seventeen”).

“Moxie” is based on the novel by high school teacher Jennifer Mathieu, and you can see the lived experience of working with teenagers, at the same time righteous and vulnerable, in the film. At times, it becomes didactic, as though it is running through a checklist of abuse, and some of the items on that list (the right to wear a tank top to school) are out of proportion to the others. And the resolution in the end is far tidier than anyone who has seen or read about real-life cases will buy.

What works better is the portrayal of the strain on Vivian’s friendship with Claudia as she becomes closer in both the relationship and the style of Lucy. This is more than the usual teen drama about outgrowing childhood connections. It is about developing a deeper understanding and empathy, and that extends not just to Claudia, but to the other girls in the school as well. The emphasis on finding ways to support each other despite differences is well handled. The film should spark some important conversations, some second thoughts about the line between “boys will be boys” and recognizing and stopping damaging behavior. It even might inspire some stars and hearts, some zines, and other ways for girls to tell their stories.

Parents should know that this film concerns toxic masculinity and abuse ranging from insults and objectification to rape. It includes sexual references and some mild language.

Family discussion: Does this movie make you see some incidents at your school differently?

If you like this, try: “Nine to Five,” “Booksmart,” and the documentary “Roll Red Roll”

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