Angel Has Fallen

Posted on August 22, 2019 at 5:42 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and language throughout
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and graphic peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, chases, explosions, assassination attempt, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 24, 2019

To recap: first the White House was attacked. Not White House Down — that was PG-13 with Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. I’m speaking of Olympus Has Fallen, rated R, with Gerard Butler as Mike Banning and Morgan Freeman as Secretary of Defense Allan Trumbull. And then it went international with London Has Fallen, with all of the world leaders as targets when they are in England to attend a funeral. Then there was Hunter Killer, but that was about a submarine commander, not a Secret Service agent. Still, it was a fate-of-the-world shoot-em-up, so we’ll include it as an affiliate member of the GBU (Gerard Butler Universe).

That brings us to chapter three of the Banning/Trumbull saga, and, as they like to say in movie trailers, this time it’s personal. “Angel Has Fallen” is about another attack on the President. But this time what, or I should say, who has fallen is Banning himself. Trumbull has gone from Defense Secretary to Vice President, and now President, and Banning is up for the job of head of the Secret Service. But he has two reasons to be reluctant to accept. First, he is feeling the effect of his concussions and other injuries and is popping a lot of pain pills. Second, he dreads the thought of a desk job. The action is what makes him feel alive.

On a fishing trip, the President is attacked — a stunning scene featuring drones swarming together like demonic birds via artificial intelligence and facial recognition. Banning, who had asked to be relieved because his headache was overpowering, returns just in time to rescue Trumbull, but everyone else on the detail is killed. Banning has been framed; there is a deposit of $10 million from Russia in his bank account. An FBI agent (Jada Pinkett Smith) is after him. Banning is Angel and he has fallen. He has to go on the run, off the grid, to find out what is happening, clear his name, and still keep the President safe.

And so we get to find out something about Banning’s past, and about the way intense, adrenaline-pumping peril can become addicting. I’ve had a problem in the past with the careless collateral damage in this series, and that continues to be a problem. Even a mindless popcorn action movie where the “surprise” bad guys are instantly recognizable has to be careful about staying within the parameters of fun chases and shoot-em-ups and explosions, not too heavy on the carnage. That is an even bigger issue this time, as Banning’s character and struggles are a part of the storyline. Making him a character with more dimensions, maybe one and a half or two but not three, just means more of an adjustment every time we swing into one of the big stunt extravaganzas. Is it all the excitement that has Banning no longer needing to chomp down pain pills all the time? It might have been more intriguing to see him try to outsmart and out-fight the bad guys with some uncertainty around his coping with past injuries, but the story pretty much jettisons all of that as soon as the action starts. The different think and feel levels are disconcerting, especially in one scene that got a lot of laughs in the theater but involves many people getting blown up.

Director Ric Roman Waugh is a former stunt man and stunt coordinator and his staging of the intense scenes of conflict and action is assured and exciting. In addition to the drone attack (filmed by drone cameras), the battle in a building during the movie’s climax is pure testosteronic cinema. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Mike Banning — the only question is what or who will be the next to fall.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent film with intense and graphic peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed, guns, drones, explosions, disturbing images.

Family discussion: How are Wade and Mike and Mike’s dad alike? What does “lions” mean to them? Should Mike take the director job?

If you like this, try: the other “Fallen” movies, “Hunter/Killer” and the “Taken” series

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Action/Adventure movie review Movies Movies Series/Sequel

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Posted on August 8, 2019 at 5:48 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and some impolite humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language ("freakin' awesome")
Alcohol/ Drugs: Hallucinogenic pollen
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 8, 2019

Copyright 2019 Nickelodeon
Six year old Dora and her cousin and best friend Diego are enjoying their dinner in Dora’s home in the rainforest. Dora thinks the food is “delicioso!” She turns to the screen and asks us in the audience: “Can you say delicioso?” Her father (“Ant-Man’s” Michael Pena) looks confused about who she’s talking to, but reassures her mother, “She’ll grow out of it.”

This is how the new live-action movie inspired by the animated series “Dora the Explorer” lets us know that its Dora, is a bit more grown-up than the Dora the Explorer we know from Nickelodeon. Following the prologue, a farewell dinner with Diego as he leaves for the United States, Dora is a 16-year-old (wide-eyed Isabella Moner, still rocking Dora’s headband and backpack, still the cheerful, curious, adventuresome girl with the monkey sidekick and the handy backpack. Her parents send her to stay with Diego’s family while they search for a legendary lost city filled with gold called Parapata.

Like Cady in “Mean Girls” and Mimi-Siku in “Jungle 2 Jungle,” Dora approaches her first experience in what some people think of as civilization as an amateur anthropologist. For Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), like many teenagers, feels like high school is “a horrible nightmare” and “a matter of life or death,” death, in his view, being noticed or embarrassed in any way. He tells Dora to be cool” and “keep a low profile.” He pleads with her, “For one day, stop being you.” “Is this to fit in with the indigenous people?” she asks.

Dora is not cool and she is incapable of keeping a low profile. In fact, the opposite of a low profile. She is seen as a threat by the school’s ambitious top student, Sammie (Madeleine Madden), the kind of girl who comes to a “come as a star” costume party as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Dora also befriends a picked-on science buff named Randy (Nicholas Combe), and she happily does a dorky dance at a school party.

On a school field trip to a natural history museum, Diego, Randy, Sammie, and Dora are teamed up for a scavenger hunt. As they look through the museum’s basement, they are kidnapped and flown to the jungle, where a bunch of bad guys want to use Dora to find her parents, and, through them, find the lost city of gold. Dora’s parents explain in the first scene in the movie that they are explorers, not treasure hunters. The bad guys are not about hunting treasure; they want to steal it. They are looters, not explorers. For Dora’s parents, “the discovery of new places is the treasure.”

The teens are rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), who explains that he is a professor friend of Dora’s parents. The teens and Alejandro race toward the lost city, trying to get there before the bad guys, with many challenges, adventures, and “jungle puzzles” — and a hallucinogenic pollen-induced cartoon sequence — along the way.

As a junior-sized “Indiana Jones,” this movie does pretty well, with adventures pitched at the right level for the 7-14 crowd. The script, co-written by Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets,” “The Five Year Engagement”) and Matthew Robinson (“Monster Trucks”) has a buoyant sense of fun and a heroine whose greatest act of courage may be the way she accepts herself and those around her.

There has been a bit of controversy about this film following a review that seemed confused about the idea of aging up the cartoon character, suggesting there was something wrong about her portrayal. But this Dora, charmingly played by Moner, is not supposed to be a hormonal teenager. She is a child’s aspirational vision of an older child, someone who has more knowledge, ability, independence, and strength. And it is great to have a movie about a teenager where the resolution does not depend on her being attractive to a boy. Which is not to say that there is no boy-girl emotion in the film; it just isn’t the point, which is just right for its audience. “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is an exciting adventure with a boots-wearing monkey, a thief of a fox (watch for a funny PSA-style disclaimer at the beginning), and a heroine whose integrity, spirit, kindness, and curiosity about the world should inspire people of all ages.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended peril and mild action and violence (no one hurt), some potty humor, and some schoolyard language. The characters inhale some hallucinogenic pollen and there is a teen kiss.

Family discussion: Why doesn’t Dora follow Diego’s advice in school? Why does Sammie change her mind about Dora? What would you like to explore?

If you like this, try: the “Dora the Explorer” series and “Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain”

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show movie review Movies Movies Stories about Teens

Hobbs & Shaw

Posted on August 1, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action and violence, suggestive material and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive action-style peril and violence, chases, explosions, guns, fire, clubs, torture, some injuries and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 2, 2019

Copyright Universal 2019
This is the summer movie you’ve been waiting for. “Fast and Furious” spin-off “Hobbs & Shaw” takes two of the series’ most popular characters, throws a silly McGuffin and a super-motivated, super-powered bad guy at them, adds in some family members, and plays up their animosity for a big-time buddy cop action comedy full of one-liners, chases, crashes, explosions, punches, kicks, improbable stunts, impossible stunts, and stay-to-the-end-of-the-credits extras. Plus Dame Helen Mirren talking like Eliza Doolittle when she was still selling flowers and looking very elegant in her orange prison jumpsuit. Suspend your disbelief and pass the popcorn!

You’ve never seen a “Fast and Furious” movie? No problem. You do not ever have to have seen a movie of any kind. You barely have to be a sentient life form to be up to, uh, speed, on this story. This is a movie where the bad guy introduced himself by telling you he is the bad guy. Where the leading lady fights like an MMA champ without ever smudging her eye-liner. And where two Hollywood stars show up in silly cameos because why not?

Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) was in US law enforcement as an agent of the Diplomatic Security Service. He was originally supposed to track down and arrest the “Fast and Furious” members, but once it was clear they were framed, he became their ally. He is a devoted father of a young girl.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) is British, from a family of grifters headed by Queenie (Helen Mirren!). In the British military he was involved in some black ops, disgraced, and became a mercenary. He also entered the series as a antagonist and is now, as Dom would say, family.

In an opening reminiscent of “The Patty Duke Show’s” identical cousin song, we see Hobbs and Shaw, on opposite sides of the world literally and metaphorically, waking up and starting their days. They both start with eggs, but Hobbs chugs his raw, and Shaw makes an omelet in his elegant, immaculate kitchen and then drives off in his cool sports car.

And then they get the call. The world needs to be saved. A deadly virus that could wipe out half the planet in just two days has been stolen by a rogue military operative named Hattie (Vanessa Kirby, a long way from playing Princess Margaret in “The Crown”). Both agree to track down the virus. But both insist that there is no way they will work together. Oh, and by the way, Hattie is Shaw’s sister, who has not spoken to him since he he went rogue.

The guy who introduced himself as the bad guy is Brixton (Idris Elba), a surgically and mechanically enhanced soldier with superhuman fighting skills who has a history with Shaw. He works for a Thanos-like organization with vast technology and a plan to release the virus and reboot humanity. The leader uses voice distortion to disguise his or her identity, so we expect some surprise from the past.

The odd couple duo hop around the world, including a visit to Hobbs’ birthplace (Hawaii playing the part of Samoa), with all kinds of crazy stunts, punctuated by quippy wisecracks. Director David Leitch is a former stunt-man and co-director of “John Wick.” I was especially taken with Brixton’s motorcycle, which seems to be operating on some almost-telepathic AI. When both men have to get past some bad guys in separate rooms and show off for each other was a highlight. There’s a lot of “What? You didn’t do that bad thing I thought you did?” Does it make sense? Nope. Is it fun? Yes.

NOTE: Stay all the way to the end for the extra scenes.

Translation: Extended peril and violence, chases, explosions, shooting, punching, knives, clubs, torture, some disturbing images and injuries, family issues, some strong language, some sexual references

Family discussion: Why do Hobbs and Shaw dislike each other so much? What do we learn about Hobbs and Shaw from seeing their families? How is Brixton’s group like Thanos in the MCU?

If you like this, try: the “Fast and Furious” movies and “The Transporter”

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Action/Adventure Comedy movie review Movies Movies Scene After the Credits

Stuber

Posted on July 11, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references and brief graphic nudity
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense peril and violence with many graphic and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, extended mayhem and destruction
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 12, 2019

Copyright 2019 20th Century Fox
At least once every summer we have to get a dumb action comedy about a mismatched pair, so this summer it is “Stuber,” about an Uber driver named Stu. If you find that portmanteau witty — or don’t care whether it’s witty or not because it’s summer and you like to see chases and explosions — then this movie is for you. If you want to see this premise at it’s best, try “Midnight Run” with Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin. If you want to see an entertaining recent example, try “Central Intelligence” with Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. But if you just want some mindless summer movie mayhem, then “Stuber” will fill the bill.

Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick,” “Silicon Valley”) plays Stu, who is struggling with not one but two jobs where he is constantly trying to handle people who disrespect and abuse him. He works at a big box sporting goods store under a bully who is also the son of the owner. He makes extra money driving for Uber and he tries hard for the five-star rating, providing phone chargers and water and selecting just the right music for the ride. He is saving money to start a spin class business with his long-time friend and wished-for crush, Becca (“GLOW’s” Betty Gilpin). Stu is a gentle soul who drives an electric car and cannot find the courage to tell Becca how he feels. He pretty much wants a five star rating from everyone; it’s even on his license plate.

And so we have to find someone who is Stu’s opposite, then, so we can have the fun of seeing them not get along and then prove themselves to each other and become BFFs while they’re chasing and shooting and exchanging banter, right? And so there’s Vic (Dave Bautista of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the WWE), a hard-as-nails cop who has been chasing a drug dealer named Teijo (Iko Uwais) for years. And it’s personal, because Teijo killed Vic’s partner and because this movie needs to ramp everything up repeatedly to keep us from noticing that it is pretty dumb. Some more ramping up: Vic is a walking, punching personification of toxic masculinity with an adult daughter he neglects and who is having a big show of her sculpture the same night when Teijo may be within reach and the same night he has a significant temporary impairment — he cannot see due to Lasik surgery. (I trust that neither Lasik nor Uber paid for their product placement in this film.)

And so he calls Uber to take him to the various places he needs to go to interrogate people and track down Teijo. As is typical in R-rated action comedies, this includes a strip club, but in this case it’s male strippers, where Stu unexpectedly has something of a bonding moment with one of the performers. Stu also gets some frantic phone calls from Becca, who may for the first time be willing to see him as a romantic possibility — if he comes over RIGHT NOW. Plus, Vic keeps pulling him into increasingly perilous situations. But Vic won’t let him go, threatening a rating so bad Stu will lose his job.

These team-ups are always based on an id/superego mash-up, and Nanjiani’s trademark understated delivery plays off well with Bautista’s brawn. But the mayhem and senseless destruction overwhelms even the ramped-up stakes, with more death and destruction than an action comedy can support and a twist so obvious it doesn’t even work as parody.

Parents should know that this film includes constant action-style peril and violence with many characters injured and killed and graphic and disturbing images, very strong and crude language, and sexual references and brief frontal male nudity.

Family discussion: Why couldn’t Stu tell Becca how he felt? Why couldn’t Vic tell his daughter how he felt?

If you like this, try: “Central Intelligence” and “Midnight Run”

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Action/Adventure Comedy movie review Movies Movies

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Posted on June 28, 2019 at 7:32 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language and brief suggestive comments
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/action-style peril and violence, mayhem, destruction, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2019

Copyright Sony 2019
Okay, three key points before we get into the details of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” First, see this smart, funny, heartwarming and entertaining movie on the biggest screen possible, IMAX if you can. Second, yes, you have to stay ALL the way through the credits. There are some big developments/revelations/surprises you will need to know. Third, if you have not seen “Avengers: Endgame” be aware that there are spoilers, so watch that first if you can, so you will better understand some of the conflicts and believe me, you don’t want to be distracted by figuring out what you missed because this movie deserves your full attention.

Just a reminder, as we’ve had a variety of Spider-Men on film, including Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and a whole bunch of Spideys including a pig and an anime girl in the Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” In this version of the Spider-verse, Tom Holland has played high school student Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and in two Avengers movies. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) took a special interest in Peter, and had his aide Happy (Jon Favreau) act as messenger and mentor.

Now that that is all out of the way, let’s get into it, unless you have not seen “Avengers: Endgame,” in which case stop reading now as there will be spoilers. The movie begins with an in memoriam tribute to the characters who died in that film, as Whitney Houston sings “I Will Always Love You.” It’s touching but it’s cheesy and sappy and we find out why: it’s on a high school closed-circuit news program with student announcers who help bring us up to date. The people who turned to dust when Thanos snapped his fingers have been returned and their absence is called The Blip. But the returnees are five years older, while for the people who were not dusted no time had passed. Everyone is still getting used to the idea that the world has been saved and beginning to get back to normal or get used to the new normal.

Peter thinks he deserves time time off, so when Nick Fury calls, he does not answer his phone. Even though Tony Stark left him in charge of the Avengers, his priority is to go on the class trip to Europe and let Mary Jane (Zendaya) know that he likes her. As in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” this film combines adolescent angst and romance with special effects superhero extravaganza fights (remember what I said about the big, big screen), with a skillful blend of humor, action, and growing up. Sometimes that combination creates a problem for Peter, as when he gets jealous of a rival for MJ’s affection and accidentally calls a drone strike on the tour bus.

The school trip provides lots of picturesque (before they get trashed) European locations, including Venice and Prague, as Nick Fury keeps “upgrading” the trip to reroute Peter to where the action is.

I know I always say that the make or break for superhero movies is the villain, but I don’t want to tell you too much about the villain here because the details should be a surprise. So I will just say that the surprises are great and this one is a lot of fun, with a very clever updating of the comic book version of the character that create an opportunity for some trippy and mind-bending visual effects. And Peter gets a great gift from Tony Stark — be sure to listen carefully to what the acronym EDITH stands for.

The settings, fight scenes, and special effects are all top-notch, but it is the cast that really brings this story to life. Holland is a little less soulful than Maguire or Garfield (or Shameik Moore), a little more heart-on-his-sleeve energetic, with a natural athleticism that lends a gymnastic, almost balletic grace to his web-swinging and slinging. Zendaya’s MJ is smart, edgy and vulnerable. The villain is…surprising, and a welcome relief after the stentorian-voiced blowhards we have too often seen in superhero movies. Plus, Led Zep, Samuel L. Jackson gets to say, “Bitch, please,” and we get to see London Bridge (or the equivalent) falling down. This is just what a summer movie is supposed to be — fresh, fun, exciting, and with a wow of a post-credit scene to shake things up for the next installment. This one made my spidey-sense tingle.

Parents should know that this film includes intense comic-book/action-style peril and violence with massive destruction and mayhem, with characters injured and killed. The movie also includes teen kissing, some strong language, a crotch hit, someone giving the finger, and mild sexual references.

Family discussion: Should Peter have answered Nick Fury’s call? Why did Tony Stark pick him? What does it mean to say “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” and where does that expression come from?

If you like this, try: the other Marvel movies and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Coming of age Fantasy High School IMAX movie review Movies Movies Scene After the Credits Science-Fiction Series/Sequel Stories about Teens Superhero
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