Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins

Posted on July 22, 2021 at 5:23 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 (Sequences of Strong Violence|Brief Strong Language)
Profanity: Some strong language, one f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended , intense, sometimes graphic violence, martial arts, guns, swords, hand-to-hand combat, fire, many characters injured and killed including a child seeing his father murdered
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 23, 2021

Copyright Paramount 2021
Paramount is trying to Avenger-ize the G.I. Joe story, starting with origin films for the characters, and that is how we get the awkwardly titled “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe” origins. Of course the real origin of G.I. Joe is a 1960s Hasbro doll, I mean action figure, and now, following the animated television series, comic books, and two movies, it is described as a media franchise. That franchise has a number of characters. Snake Eyes is the mysterious human weapon, a black belt in 12 martial arts disciplines and a master of all kinds of small arms including guns and swords. Following injuries in a previous mission he could no longer speak and he had facial scars which led him to wear a helmet that covered his face most of the time. Little was known about his background because it was “classified.” Until now.

“20 years ago, Washington State” we are told as the movie begins with a young boy and his dad walking through the woods. “Is there a safe in the house?” the boy asks. He overheard his father saying something about a safe house, referring to a cabin where they were staying. But it was not a safe house. Bad guys arrive and kill the boy’s father after forcing him to roll the dice for his life. They came up with two ones: snake eyes. The boy is left alone.

We then move to present day, when the fighter only known as Snake Eyes is in the middle of a no-holds-barred underground bout. Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”) takes over for Ray Park, who played Snake Eyes in the previous “G.I. Joe” movies. After the fight, a man offers Snake Eyes a job with an offer he cannot refuse, the only thing he wants — the man who killed his father.

His new boss is a weapons smuggler. Things go very wrong, and he ends up saving the life of Tommy (Andrew Koji), the wealthy heir to the Arashikage family, a Japanese klan of ninjas. They escape together and in gratitude Tommy brings Snake Eyes to the Arashikage compound and says they will train him as a ninja — if he can pass three tests, administered by the Hard Master (Iko Uwais) and the Blind Master (Peter Mensah). If Snake Eyes does not pass, he will die.

The tests are among the films highlights, along with some wow-worthy chases and action sequences. The martial arts scenes are dynamic and a lot of fun, with split-second timing and astonishing skill. I also enjoyed the shifting loyalties, depending on the demands of the moment, and the other iconic G.I. Joe characters, Scarlett (a performance of verve and wit from Samara Weaving) and the Baroness (Úrsula Corberó having a lot of fun).

Notice I did not mention the acting or the dialogue, neither of which are worth mentioning. There are some fortune cookie-isms like “If your heart is pure, our secrets will reveal themselves to you.” And I am not persuaded that the G.I. Joe-iverse can match the range of the MCU. But when it comes to summer action blockbusters, this one does the trick.

Parents should know that this is a very violent film with many characters injured and killed, featuring martial arts, guns, swords, fire, chases and explosions. It is what is called “action violence,” meaning not much gore or graphic images. A child witnesses the murder of his parent. There is brief strong language (one f-word).

Family discussion: How did the characters decide what their loyalties were? What did Snake Eyes learn from the first two tests? Do you agree with Sen’s decision about Tommy?

If you like this, try: the G.I. Joe movies and comics

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First Date

Posted on July 8, 2021 at 10:59 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters are drug dealers
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style violence with many characters injured and killed, some graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 2, 2021

Copyright Magnolia 2021
“First Date” is an unassuming indie film that seems to have spent most of its tiny budget on squibs, the little exploding doodads that movies use to make it look like people and walls and objects are getting shot. There is a lot of shooting in this movie. But, as the title tells us, at the heart of the film are two teenagers on their first date.

Asking someone out and then actually going on the date can seem like a monumental undertaking when you’re a teen and you really like someone. This movie ups the ante by creating external challenges that are as impossible as the ones Mike, a sweet, shy kid played by Tyson Brown) likes the vastly more confident Kelsey (Shelby Duclos). Seeing her shut down the clumsy come-ons from an arrogant jock just makes him even more at sea about how to approach her, even with the enthusiastic pushes from his best friend. But then, miraculously, somehow a date gets scheduled, and that would be really awesome except for one small hitch. He has promised to come pick her up and he does not have anything to pick her up in and his parents have driven off with the family car.

So, Mike buys a ’65 Chrysler, so happy to have a vehicle that he does not pay attention to some obvious red flags about the skeevy-looking seller. It turns out that the car is filled with some valuable product from some very violent bad guys. Thus, we are in for chases, cops, an elderly couple who want to re-enact an early romantic encounter, drug dealers with some internal issues, and lot of texting as Kelsey wants to know what is keeping Mike from arriving. We’re also in for some references to a book club that is reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which, and they really want to make sure everyone understands this, is not a novel but a novella.

Writer/directors Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp (Crosby also did the cinematography and co-edited) have fashioned a loose, episodic story held together by our hopes for Mike and Kelsey. This works better in the first half than the second, as the adventures get wilder and more lethal and the couple in the center stop being in the center. The camerawork and editing are more assured than the writing and the performances are uneven, but the film has some good moments and the filmmakers show promise.

Parents should know that this film is very violent with many characters injured and killed, shoot-outs, chases, drug dealing, very strong language, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: Why does Kelsey like Mike? Which of their encounters surprised you the most? Would you join a book club?

If you like this, try: “Superbad”

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Black Widow

Posted on July 5, 2021 at 4:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 Some Language|Intense Violence/Action|Thematic Material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/action-style peril and violence, references to torture and abuse of children, characters are assassins, chases, explosions, guns
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 7, 2021

Copyright 2021 Marvel Studios
We’ve waited a long time to find out how Natasha became the Black Widow. While we got to know the male Avengers through individual origin stories about Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man, Natasha was different. We first saw the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) tied to a chair looking very much the victim as she was confronted by some vetough and powerful-looking men. But we learn, as they do, that she is very much in control of the situation. We also learn that unlike the other Avengers, she has no special powers from a radioactive spider-bite or government potion, some fancy equipment, or being born a god. She has her wits and courage and some of what Liam Neeson might call a very special set of skills. Through the Avengers films we saw that she was the heart of the group, kind, empathetic, willing to sacrifice herself out of a sense of integrity and, perhaps, redemption.

We wanted to know more. But it took time to persuade Marvel Studios, and then, just as we were all ready to get Natasha a film of her own, its release was delayed in the summer of 2020 due to the pandemic, so it was not until now, a year later, that it is finally here. Even with all that has gone on, “Black Widow” quickly puts us back in the world of the Avengers. And, it continues Marvel’s cleverest strategy, allowing each character to inhabit a world that is distinctive in tone and atmosphere as it maintains a clear, strong central sense of its world.

Who could have guessed that we would find Natasha in 1995 Ohio? But that is where we start, a young girl with blue hair (Ever Anderson, a believable young Johansson) riding her bicycle home at dinner time. She greets her younger sister affectionately, and then, when the littler girl hurts her knee, their mother, like mothers since mothers began, kisses it to make it better. But this mother does something a little different. She tells her daughters that pain makes you stronger. And then what seems like a typical suburban family dinner turns out more than a little different. The father comes home and tells the family something they have clearly prepared for has happened and they have to leave right away. And they do leave, the house and the country, in an exciting, if improbably escape. We will soon learn that this may not meet any traditional definition of “family” at all. Indeed, questions about what is family and what we need from families is as central to this film as the chases, fights, exotic locations, and fight scenes.

We skip ahead 21 years from that wild escape. Natasha is living off the grid following the “divorce” of the Avengers. She is considered an enemy following the assassination of King T’Chaka of Wakanda in “Captain America: Civil War.” But a package from Yelena (Florence Pugh) brings her back into the fight. Starting with a fight with Yelena herself, one of the film’s highlights. The scenes with the two of them crackle and bolster hope that the rumors of a Yelena affiliation with the Avengers.

Director Cate Shortland balances the action scenes — a prison break is a highlight — with family moments that are sometimes very funny (wait for Yelena on The Pose, and David Harbour as Natasha’s closest equivalent to a “good father”) and sometimes touching (Rachel Weisz as the mother equivalent, a pig-experimenting scientist who takes time to add a dramatic smokey eye when she dons a jumpsuit for action).

And of course there is a powerful adversary with a high-tech lair and a private army that holds the key to Natasha’s persona. It tells you all you need to know that those scenes are fine, but will likely leave you waiting a little impatiently for the next moments with the family, reminding us again that family may be frustrating, may even be dysfunctional, but those we are born into and those we choose are still where home is.

Parents should know that as with all superhero movies, this included extended peril and action, which characters injured and killed. There is some strong language and references to forced sterilization.

Family discussion: Why did Natasha take a different path than other people around her? Is there a key to unlocking fear?

If you like this, try: the Avengers movies and some of Johansson’s other films like “Jojo Rabbit,” “Her,” and “Hail, Ceasar”

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The Tomorrow War

Posted on July 1, 2021 at 3:01 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for Some Suggestive References|Action|Language|Intense Sci-Fi Violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/action peril and violence, many characters killed, fatal sacrifice
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 2, 2021

Copyright Amazon 2021
This is what summer movies are all about — “The Tomorrow War” is about endearing but flawed humans fighting aliens as they save all of humanity and resolve their family estrangements. Plus time travel. I’ll have a couple of concerns later on, but let’s do what the movie does and get right to the action.

Plunged right into the action is more like it, as the movie opens with humans firing at terrifying, insect-lizard-like aliens we will later learn are called White Spikes as they fall from the sky into the ocean.

That’s just a peek. As the hero we’ve just seen (Chris Pratt as Dan) plunges into the water, we are plunged back in time, as far away from the action as we can imagine. It is 28 years earlier in a quiet suburb. Dan is coming home, where his wife (Betty Gilpin as Emmy) and daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) are hosting a Christmas party. Dan is distracted because he has applied for a new job, one he would find more satisfying than the high school teaching position he took after leading missions with the military in Iraq. He settles down to watch a football game with Muri, but there is static on the screen and then an unbelievable sight. People disembark from what look like spaceships. They say they are from 30 years in the future, where humans are fighting a war with alien invaders and losing badly. Their only hope is to bring people from the past to help them fight.

A year later, systems have been set up to conscript people to join the fight. Only half of people are “qualified” for time travel, and they are sent for one-week tours of duty. Only 25 percent of those who are sent through time survive, and those that do are severely injured and traumatized. People are losing support for the war and for the world governments that are running things. “Why should we be fighting a way that as far as we’re concerned hasn’t happened yet?” But there is no choice. If you try to avoid service, your spouse or child is sent in your place.

Nevertheless, Emmy urges Dan to run. His only hope is to get help from the father he swore he would never speak to again (J.K. Simmmons as James). He meets with James but decides he would rather fight the aliens.

The actions scenes are exciting and the script by Zach Dean keeps things moving, even with the nearly 2 1/2 hour running time, nicely balancing character, combat, and some humor. As we’ve seen in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the “Jurassic World” movies, Pratt is a classic American hero, part cowboy, part smart aleck, loving father and husband despite some struggles to be the man he wants to be to them. There are some clever twists — also some not so clever twists, but time travel stories seldom avoid paradoxes. The disappointment here is a brief but jarring jab at the government, which makes no sense given the essential role the government plays in a crucial development, especially unwelcome in a 4th of July release. When compared to the ultimate in this category, “Independence Day,” where the President literally gets in a plane (after a stirring St. Crispin’s Day-style speech) to fight the aliens, it is impossible not think about what prompted it. Even in a summer action movie.

Parents should know that this is a PG-13 sci-fi action film, which means a lot of “action-style” violence. There’s lots of alien blood and body parts but though we hear a lot about human fatalities we do not see much beyond a lot of dead bodies and some skeletons. Characters use some strong language and drink some alcohol and there are mild sexual references.

If you like this, try: “Independence Day,” “Source Code,” “Pacific Rim,” and “Battle: Los Angeles”

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F9

Posted on June 22, 2021 at 8:47 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for language, action, sequences of violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Beer
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril ad violence, shooting, explosions, martial arts, many people killed or injured
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 25, 2021

Copyright 2021 Universal
Let’s be real, if we can use a word like “real” to describe a series of films that parted ways with reality at least six or seven movies ago. But, knowing that, if you’re still here and I’m still here, we’ve pretty much agreed that’s okay and so the usual information potential ticket-buyers look for in a movie review is not really relevant. So, we can do what this movie does, and cut to the chase.

Here’s what you need to know. Director Justin Lin and his co-producer/star Vin Diesel know why we’re here; we want to see some crazy action scenes with characters we know so well that when Dom says once again that he doesn’t have friends; he has family, we almost feel that we’re part of the family now, too. So, “F9” delivers what the fans want, which is more and wilder action, and a bit more family, too. In fact, this time we get some backstory, with teenage brother and sister Dom (Diesel) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their dad, race car driver Jack Toretto (JD Pardo). It turns out there’s another brother, too, Jakob (Finn Cole). And we get to see how a tragedy on the racecourse leads to the brothers going in different directions. Jakob comes back into the story as John Cena.

If you’re a casual fan, all you need to know is that this movie has a lot of fun, if highly improbable, action scenes, including Vin Diesel as a passenger in a crazy car chase through London with none other than Dame Helen Mirren at the wheel. If you’re really into the series, you’ll want to know that many other favorite characters return, some more surprisingly than others. Also, if you’re really into the series you already know that the third movie in the series is the eighth in the chronology (also the first directed by Lin). That movie ended with another tragic exploding car death, of a mentor named Han (Sung Kang). But if we’ve learned one thing from this series, it is that sometimes people you think were either dead or bad turn out to be neither.

Two scenes I particularly loved will be the best litmus test for your decision on whether to buy a ticket (and if you do, please make it the Dolby experience). We’ve all seen fights before. We’ve seen fights where our two guys take on six bad guys. We’ve probably seen fights in the back of a big moving van, but here’s where the “Fast and Furious” franchise says to themselves, “How can we make things even more interesting?” And at some point someone says, “Let’s have the fight take place when the van is being (a) being chased by more bad guys, (b) being driven by someone who has never driven before, and (c) carrying the world’s most powerful electro-magnet, which is being turned on and off, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not. Wow.

The other scene has Roman, the comic relief character played by the almost-impossibly handsome Tyrese, says something that does not quite break the fourth wall between the characters and the audience but bends it a little. He mentions the un-mentionable — somehow no matter how many of the most lethal weapons ever conceived are shooting and exploding all around them, no matter how outnumbered they are, no matter how many impossible jumps they attempt to make in vehicles, somehow they all walk away without a scratch. Could it be, he wonders, that they’re not human? The real-life answer is that they’re not; they’re fictional characters. His conjecture is, maybe, that they could be un-killable? The real-life answer to that one is yes, as long as people keep buying tickets to the sequels.

In another scene, a character says, “If this was a movie, this would be when….” just to remind us that they know we know.

They can’t make the title any shorter. What’s the next one going to be called, just F? Will there be another “Hobbs & Shaw?” A spin-off about Dom’s early days? If they feature Helen Mirren and a Pontiac Fiero shot into space or whatever even crazier stuff they can dream up, I’m in.

NOTE: Stay for the mid-credits sequence for another familiar face.

Parents should know that this film includes constant action and peril including teenagers witnessing the death of a parent in a fiery crash and endless shoot-outs and chases, one through a minefield. Characters use strong language and drink beer. Bad guys plot world domination.

Family discussion: When does someone deserve a second chance? Should Letty have called Mia?

If you like this, try: the other films in the series, especially “Tokyo Drift” and “Hobbs & Shaw.”

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