Shotgun Wedding

Posted on January 26, 2023 at 5:13 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some violence/bloody images
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended terrorism peril and violence, guns, knives, grenades, characters injured and killed, some graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 27, 2023

Copyright 2023 Amazon
Keep this in mind as you evaluate my comments — I do not even try to resist the allure of Jennifer Lopez. So if you can, you may not be willing to surrender to the ridiculousness of this action romantic comedy about a destination wedding interrupted by violent pirates. Let me put it this way: you will probably enjoy the film if you’re okay with the fact that over the course of the film, as lawyer and bride-to-be Darcy (Lopez) is being chased by masked bad guys with military-style weapons, her pouffy bridal gown is ever-so-fetchingly shredded, her hair adorably tousled, and her maquillage (the word “make-up” cannot adequately convey the perfection) is perpetually exquisite, even has she and the groom are chased through the jungle, handcuffed, and clutching a live grenade.

Darcy and her fiancé Tom (Josh Duhamel) have brought their families and friends to a Philippene island for their wedding. (With this film and January 13’s “Plane,” the Philippines should probably consult a tourism marketing firm.) This has put a lot of stress on everyone, especially because Tom, a minor league baseball designated hitter recently released at age 40, is overly fixated on making every detail perfect and neglecting his bride. Darcy’s wealthy father, Robert (Cheech Marin), has brought his woo-woo vibes and auras girlfriend, Harriet (D’Arcy Carden of “The Good Place”). His elegant ex-wife, Darcy’s mother, Renata (Sonia Braga) wants to stay as far away from them as possible. Tom’s parents are the unfiltered, boundary-trespassing Carol (Jennifer Coolidge) and the perpetually videoing every minute Larry (Steve Coulter).

Ramping up the stress level is the surprise arrival of Darcy’s former fiancé, Sean (Lenny Kravitz), who now works for Darcy’s father and is something of a surrogate son. He arrives by helicopter and insists on giving a toast at the rehearsal dinner. The next morning, as the guests are in their chairs on the beach waiting for the ceremony to begin, Tom and Darcy are on another part of the island breaking up.

This is why they are not there when the pirates arrive and take everyone else hostage, making them gather in the infinity pool while they send a search party to kidnap the bride and groom. They tell Robert they will not release them until he transfers $45 million to them. He says he will not to anything until they prove that Darcy is safe. Tom and Darcy have to find a way to take on heavily armed, trained group with no weapons, training, protective gear, or idea what they’re doing.

The balance of humor and action is uneven, and it does not even try to make sense. But the overall tone is lighthearted, and, as I said, Lopez is, as always, hard to resist.

Parents should know that this film includes terrorist-style peril and violence with military-grade weapons, chases, and explosions. Chaacters are injured and killed, in light-hearted fashion when they are bad guys, and there are some grisly images. Chacters uses strong and crude language with sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: Whose family was more difficult? Was the twist a surprise? What did the attack reveal to Darcy and Tom about themselves and each other?

If you like this, try: “Wedding Season

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Plane

Posted on January 11, 2023 at 3:21 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R language and violence
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Constant, intense peril and violence, knives, sledgehammer, military guns and bazookas, fistfights,
Copyright Lionsgate 2023

When an action movie is simply called “Plane,” you know they’re going to get right to it and keep going. Stepping into the spot usually reserved for Liam Neeson each January, with a tiny touch of Stephen Segal in “Under Siege” and Nicolas Cage in “Con Air.” Gerard Butler plays Brodie Torrance, a Scottish commercial pilot whose New Year’s Eve flight from Singapore to Tokyo runs into trouble when the plane is hit by lightning. He has to make an emergency landing on island of the Philippines that is ruled by murderous outlaws. One of the passengers (Mike Colter as Louis) is in handcuffs because he is being extradited to be tried for murder.

If this sounds a bit like a video game, where our hero(es) have to navigate one dire threat after another, you’ve got that right. There is a quick and efficient introduction to let us know that Brodie is a loving and devoted but not always present father of a beautiful college student daughter he hopes to be with to see in the new year. We see him courteous and professional as he meets his flight crew and talks to the airport official who assures him the storm ahead will not be a problem. We also get to see the prisoner, escorted by a law enforcement officer. It won’t take long (per “Con Air”) for Brodie and Louis, the two people on the island with military training, to team up. Colter is terrific as a guy who has nothing to prove to anyone but knows when it is time to deliver.

And then things start to go wrong. It gets very bumpy. The radar, the altimeter, and the navigation system go out. We know things are pretty bad when they pull out a paper map to try to figure out where they are. We’re vividly reminded that it’s just a tin can in the sky and let’s just say you will not be seeing this movie as an option when you scroll past the offerings on your next plane ride. Or if by some mistake you do, wait to see it until you are on solid ground again.

The relief of landing is short-lived. They have no way of letting anyone know where they are. And they are soon to discover that the occupants of the island are ruthless murderers who may keep them alive for ransom, but only briefly.

The film zips and occasionally lurches from one action scene to another, all capably staged if not especially memorable. The bad guys are one-dimensional, but no one really wants or expects them to be more than a believably threatening menace. Occasionally, per “Under Seige,” we see what is going on at the corporate headquarters, as the CEO (Joey Slotnick) and his whatever-it-takes “crises manager” (a savvy Tony Goldwyn) make whatever decisions they can.

Butler, who also produced, knows what we’re looking for in an action movie, not just the punches and explosions, but the ingenuity and the satisfaction of seeing how and by whom the bad guys get dispatched. This many not show us anything new, but it shows us that what isn’t new can still be reliably entertaining.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop action, some with graphic visuals, with many characters injured and killed. There are knives, military-style weapons, and fistfights. There is also non-stop use of the f-word.

Family discussion: What made Brodie decide to trust Louis? If you were Sinclair, would you have hired Brodie? What will the airline do differently?

If you like this, try: “Olympus Has Fallen,” “Angel Has Fallen,” and the “Taken” movies, and, to see Butler in a non-action role in a lovely drama, “Dear Frankie” or as voice talent in the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies

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Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Posted on December 21, 2022 at 12:40 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/violence, rude humor, language and some scary moments
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language and almost-language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy peril and action, comic "deaths," some scary monsters, a character embodies death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 23, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal/Dreamworks
The swashbuckling fairy tale cat Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) likes to remind everyone of his heroic, adventurous spirit, his skill with a sword, and his gift for singing. When pressed, as he is in “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” by a doctor, he will admit that he is not much at math. And this is relevant because, as we know, a cat has nine lives, and if Puss had been keeping score he would have realized that he has used up…eight of them. It does not require a lot of math skills to figure out that means he is on his last one and has to be careful.

And that is how, after an opening scene filled with swordplay, acrobatics, and valor, including the defeat of a superbly designed tree giant, Puss ends up living with a cat lady (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, warm-hearted with just a touch of dottiness). “I’m always on the lookout for a new lap cat!” she says. Puss sadly buries his feathered hat and boots and resigns himself to the indignities of blue booties, eating cat chow from a trough, and using a litter box.

But then he discovers there is one chance to reboot his lives. It involves a magical map to the location of a fallen star that can grant just one wish. He is not the only one who wants that wish, though. Goldilocks (a hilarious cockney-accented Florence Pugh) and her three bear crime family (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman, and Samson Kayo) and Big (formerly Little) Jack Horner (John Mulaney in full sneer mode) want the wish. And so does Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), whose fearlessness and swords(wo)manship are every bit a match for PiB, with a history together that makes them both wary and attracted to one another.

And so, Puss is off on a journey and in a race with the other groups trying to beat him to the wish. And as we expect from the SCU (Shrek Cinematic Universe), there will be humor ranging from sly references for the grown-ups to slapstick for the young and the young at heart. And there will be action, adventure, some heartwarming lessons about friendship and a little bit of romance. It is always fun to see or rather hear “Desperado” co-stars Hayek and Banderas together again.

The character design and movement is very well done, especially the tree giant, the wolf/bounty hunter who represents Death, and Goldilocks. And the animation style is wonderfully dynamic and expressive. I especially enjoyed the mix of animation styles. We are all used to the hyper-realism of CGI, with every hair in a cat’s fur rendered individually. So it was especially nice to see the contrast between that realism and a more impressionistic depiction of fur on the coats of the three bears or the bark on the tree giant. The combination works surprisingly well and a slight strobe effect on some of the action scenes gives them a joyfully dynamic comic-book pop.

This new chapter keeps the best of the series’ humor and heart and adds new touches to keep the story and characters vibrant. If they can keep this up, Puss should have many more lives.

Parents should know that this film has some mild schoolyard language and some almost-language, some potty humor, and extended fantasy action with some peril and violence that almost reaches the PG-13 level, including flashbacks of Puss in Boots’ first eight “deaths.”

Family discussion: If you had nine lives, what chances would you take? What was different about what Golidlocks and Jack Horner wanted to wish for?

If you like this, try: The other Shrek and Puss in Boots movies and the fairy tales and nursery rhymes that inspired them.

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Avatar: The Way of Water

Posted on December 14, 2022 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended, intense, sometimes graphic peril and violence, characters injured, sad death of a family member
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 16, 2022

Copyright 2022 20th Century
Although writer/director James Cameron has made some of the most innovative and financially successful movies of all time, including “Terminator,” “Titanic,” and the original “Avatar.” But he has said that his real passion is oceans and joked that his movie career is to fund his explorations of the world under water. He brought those two passions together with his “Deepsea Challenge 3D” documentary about his expedition to the deepest part of the ocean. And in this sequel to 2009’s “Avatar” he brings them together again, with much of the story taking place under the clear, sparkling water of Pandora.

Time has passed since the end of the first film. Onetime human soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is living blissfully with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), among the “forest people,” in an Edenic environment of gentle peace with their community and with the land. They have four children, two older boys, a little girl, and an adopted daughter, Kiri, daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine. voiced by Sigourney Weaver, who played Dr. Grace Augustine in the first film. Kiri is the late Dr. Augustine’s daughter. No one knows who her father was. A human boy nicknamed Spider (Jack Champion) is almost another family member, though he must wear a mask on Pandora in order to breathe. Spider’s father was Miles Quaritch, the first film’s human villain, played by Stephen Lang.

Miles is back, now as an avatar, too. The human “sky people” are no longer seeking just Pandora’s precious ore. They now represent the most popular category of movie bad guy in 2022: colonists. He is charged by his commanding officer (Edie Falco) to conquer the natives, and he vows to kill his former fellow soldier, Jake Sully.

As with the first film, the Pandora natives are portrayed as idyllic indigenous people and the humans, with the exception of the kindly lab staff, are mostly brutish and greedy. Their invaders have machine guns and explosives and no compunctions about using children as bait. The Pandorans have spears and arrows. And pure hearts. Cameron is not known for subtlety or depth of character. There’s a reason his most famous character is a cyborg whose breakthrough film had him utter just 17 lines of dialogue. This movie would have been better with less talking, too.

But Cameron is known for spectacular visuals, and “Avatar: The Way of Water” delivers that and then some. When the Sullys leave their home with the forest people and seek asylum with the teal-skinned water people (reminiscent of the recent “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), much of the story moves on and in the ocean and Cameron’s endless love for that environment is evident in every breathtakingly gorgeous detail, thrillingly immersive in IMAX 3D with Dolby sound. The undersea creatures are spectacularly beautiful and the underwater movements are graceful and balletic or intensely suspenseful as the story demands. Kiri, who loves her family but has always felt something of an outsider, finds her home in the water so believably we begin to feel that way, too. The building blocks of the storyline may be very basic, but the environments where they take place are glorious.

By the end of the movie, the Pandorans no longer seem like giant super-models, with their elongated, slender bodies. They seem like the normal ones and the humans seem tiny and awkward.

The story is just a scaffolding for the world-building. That may make it more of an experience than a movie, but the experience is a fun place to visit.

Parents should know that this film has extended and intense peril and violence. A young character is killed. There are graphic images including a severed arm, dead bodies, and impaled combatants. Characters use some strong language and the costumes are skimpy. There are mild sexual references including questions of paternity.

Family discussion: What circumstances today present the same issues that the Sullys and the water-based Metkayina clan have to consider — protecting their group or caring for those in need, wanting to be peaceful when faced with violence? Does your family have a motto? How are the two Sully brothers different and why?

If you like this, try: “Avatar,” and get ready for three more sequels!

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Strange World

Posted on November 21, 2022 at 12:00 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/perio and thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2022

Copyright Disney 2022
Disney’s gorgeously animated, thrilling, and tender “Strange World” is a treat, with all of the fabulously imaginative artistry and all of the heart of Disney’s best. The world it shows us might be strange in some of its elements, but it is very familiar at its core to anyone who has ever been in a family while discovering identity, place, and meaning.

It begin with an introduction to the Clades, beautifully rendered in entrancing vintage comic-book visuals. Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a burly adventurer with an impressive mustache, exploring anywhere no one has ever been, not really noticing that his young son, aspirationaly named Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), would much rather stop and look at interesting plants than grab a machete or ice-ax to make it over the next obstacle. “We’re explorers, not gardeners,” Jaeger says.

When Searcher is 15, Jaeger leads an expedition with an urgent purpose. The community of Avalonia is no longer sustainable. They are hoping that the unexplored area on the other side of the mountains will give them a place to relocate. When Searcher notices a glowing plant that could be a power source to keep Avalonia vibrant, he tries to make Jaeger halt the expedition to investigate. Jaeger is impatient. “Don’t be distracted by sparkly plants.” He insists on continuing, while the rest of the group decides to bring the plant back home. Jaeger is never seen again, presumed lost forever.

25 years later Avalonia has become a thriving community, with the plant, called pando, its all-purpose energy source. Searcher is happily settled as a pando farmer with his crop-duster wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union). Their teenage son Ethan (stand-up comic Jaboukie Young-White) is grossed out when his parents smooch, loves the imaginative table-top card game Primal Outpost, and is tongue-tied around his crush, a boy named Diazo. They also have an endearing three-legged shaggy dog named Legend.

One day, the pando in Meridian’s plane mysteriously stops working. And then a spaceship arrives with Avalonia President Callisto (Lucy Liu), who was with Searcher on Jaeger’s last expedition. She tells Searcher that pando is not individual, distinct sprouts but one connected growth. If one part of it is dying, soon all of it will be and the source of Avalonia’s power will be gone. Callisto needs Searcher to do exactly what he said he never wanted to do again — go on an expedition. He reluctantly agrees, insisting that Meridian and Ethan stay home on the farm.

Soon we are in the very strange world they literally fall into. This is where the Disney artists had the chance to dream up wildly fantastical landscapes and creatures that are enthralling and delightful. As the group tries to find out what is killing the pando there are many surprises I will not spoil except to say that the movie is exceptionally insightful in weaving together themes of interconnectedness and individuality. It even ties in Ethan’s favorite Primal Outpost, a game I fully expect Disney will make available for future tabletop tournaments and just for collectors as the cards are extraordinarily beautiful. Like the original “Frozen” and its sequel (producer Jennifer Lee is “Frozen’s” co-director), it gently challenges some conventional fantasy storylines.

“Strange World” is Disney at its best, filled with excitement, fabulously imaginative visuals, and a deep understanding of what makes stories connect to us and connect us to each other. The surroundings may be strange, but the themes are universal, lovingly illuminated.

Parents should know that this movie has fantasy peril and violence including a flame-thrower and a knife. There are themes of environmental destruction. The movie has exceptionally diverse characters, all very well designed without stereotyping and all supportive of each other.

Family discussion: How are you different from your parents? How are you alike?

If you like this, try: “Encanto” and “Big Hero Six”

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