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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Copshop

Posted on September 16, 2021 at 3:27 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong bloody violence and pervasive language
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Apparent drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Constant, extended, and very. bloody peril and violence with extremely graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 17, 2021

Copyright 2021 Open Road
I’m going to take a controversial position here. I think writer/director Joe Carnahan is like Tarantino without the burdensome pretension. No fetishization of popular culture, no obsessive fixation on period detail, no pulpy re-imagining of historical facts, no pretense of deeper meaning. No, Carnahan says to us, “If you are a fan of dark humor, a twisty plot, and intense, bloody action, I am here to give it to you in a visually stylish, enjoyably nasty fashion.” That was the case with “Boss Level,” a very entertaining “Groundhog Day”-themed action picture starring Frank Grillo. And it is the case with the almost-as-good “Copshop,” also with Grillo, a contemporary action drama with a 70s vibe.

It has a great premise. Two men are separately arrested for being drunk and disorderly, put in opposite holding cells. It turns out that Teddy (Frank Grillo) wanted to be arrested because someone was trying to kill him and he thought the police station would be the safest place he could be. And it turns out that the man in the opposite cell is Bob (Gerard Butler) who is (a) not drunk and (b) the professional assassin who is trying to kill Teddy, and he got himself arrested with that end in mind. Bob is not the only one who wants to kill Teddy. It is an open contract, so another paid assassin will show up as well. That would be Tony (don’t call him Anthony), a star-making performance by Toby Huss.

Like the 1976 “Assault on Precinct 13” and its 2005 remake, the tension is heightened because almost everything happens in just one location, inside the police station and because there are shifting loyalties. Alexis Louder plays Valerie Young, the only woman police officer in the precinct and with endless competence and integrity. At times both Bob and Teddy do their best to persuade her to trust them — and not the other one. And there is one person on the police force who is less trustworthy than he seems.

Carnahan expertly balances tension, action, and thrills with understated humor and the character of Valerie is immensely appealing, thanks in part to Louder’s charismatic performance. Fortunately, some open questions at the end suggest the possibility of a sequel.

Parents should know that this movie has extended and very graphic and bloody violence including guns, knives, fire, and explosions with many characters injured and killed and disturbing images. Characters are paid assassins and there are references to the off-screen murders of innocent people, including a child. Characters use constant very strong language.

Family discussion: What did Valerie notice that none of the other police officers did? Do you agree with her that “it’s not the brush; it’s the artist?”

If you like this, try: “Boss Level” and “Assault on Precinct 13”

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Posted on August 31, 2021 at 12:47 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, martial arts, weapons, explosions, monsters, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 3, 2021

(L-R): Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) in Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Marvel’s first Asian superhero gets an exciting, heartfelt origin story in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” The character first appeared in 1973, created by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin, inspired by the television series “Kung Fu,” and the career of Bruce Lee, which had created a great interest in Chinese martial arts. In the comics, he was originally the son of the already-established ultra-villain Fu Manchu.

In this version, Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is the son of Wenwu (Chinese acting legend Tony Leung), who uses the power of 10 magic rings to cause massive death, destruction, and pillage over centuries. After they fight as she defends her community from his invasion, Wenwu falls in love with Jiang Li (Fala Chen) and for a time they have a peaceful life together, until she is murdered by Wenwu’s enemies.

Shang-Chi and his sister (Meng’er Zhang as Xialing) are raised to be warriors, knowing nothing of their father’s past. After his mother’s death and his discovery of his father’s evil actions, Shang-Chi runs away, as far as he can get from his home and family. He is working in San Francisco as a parking valet under the name Sean with his best friend Katy (the indispensable Awkwafina). They are both low key slackers who ar enjoying their lives when trouble tracks Shang-Chi down on an articulated bus, the kind with two parts connected by an accordion-like pivoting joint. In other words, it is just the place for a wow of a fight scene, and a wow is what we get. Keep an eye on the combatant with a steel blade prosthetic on his arm. That is the aptly named Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) and we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.

The script, by director Destin Daniel Cretton along with Andrew Lanham and Dave Callaham gives emotional weight to the action with its focus on the family conflicts, especially the struggle — sometimes emotional, sometimes physical — between father and son. But first, Shang-Chi reunites with his estranged sister, involving a cage fight with a monster. Ultimately, it brings him home in a literal and emotional sense as he returns to the land his mother once guarded so bravely, Ta Lo. It is a place of peace and gentility, with the entire community devoted to keeping a powerful, evil creature imprisoned there. Wenwu’s original attack on Ta Lo was to release the monster. And now he returns, in part because one of the creature’s powers is to call out to powerful people who could release it in the voice of someone they loved and lost.

Shang-Chi, Xialing, and Katy find themselves back in Ta Lo, where their late mother’s sister Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh) helps them create a defense to protect their home and prevent the release of the monster, leading up to a final confrontation that will involve emotional growth, strengthened connections, and a lot of marital arts fighting. Plus a monster.

The action scenes are exciting and revealing of character and the performances are excellent, especially Leung, who makes a complicated and sometimes inconsistent character layered and — for a supervillain — real. I am, as ever, impressed with Marvel’s Kevin Feige for his willingness to allow each of the Marvel characters to appear in distinctive stories across a range of tones and genres and yet somehow make them all feel like part of the same world. Shang-Chi is a welcome addition to the MCU and I look forward to seeing him interact with the other characters as they take on whatever and whoever is threatening the planet next.

Parents should know that this film has extended and sometimes graphic peril and violence with a lot of martial arts action, chases, explosions, monsters, weapons, and some disturbing images.

Family discussion: Why did Shang-Chi and Xialing respond differently to their childhood experiences? Why was she so angry with him?

If you like this, try: the other Avengers origin movies including “Iron Man,” “Ant-Man,” and “Captain America”

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The Protege

Posted on August 19, 2021 at 1:20 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexual references, language, brief nudity, strong and bloody violence
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Constant very intense peril and violence with many disturbing and gory images, guns, knives, fights, bombs, waterboarding and torture, characters injured and killed, attempted rape of a child
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 20, 2021
Date Released to DVD: October 18, 2021

Copyright Lionsgate 2021
I do not expect narrative coherence from movies that fall into the category of don’t-pay-attention-to-the-plot-just-enjoy-the-action, just that they don’t distract the audience with too many “huh?” moments. “The Protege” teeters on the “huh” brink, with enough for three episodes of Pitch Meeting, the YouTube series hilariously dissecting movie plot holes. Plus, the intensity of the gore becomes another distraction from the reason we are all there, which is to marvel at the very impressive stunts and fight scenes.

The always-great Maggie Q plays the title character, taken in as a child by Moody (Samuel L. Jackson), the world’s greatest paid assassin, after her family is killed. He cares for her like any loving parent who happens to be a paid assassin, supporting her passion for her bookstore specializing in rare and precious volumes, and teaching her how to take over the family business. She supports his passion for the finer things, too, including a birthday gift of an ultra-rare guitar he has always wanted, a Gibson ’58 Flying V. It’s just your typical loving father and daughter who happen to be, you know, paid assassins.

After we get a chance to see how good Anna is at her job, including “how to find things that don’t want to be found,” with the help of a friendly hacker who has an office behind a dry cleaner (just like “The Man From UNCLE!”). But even assassins may be vulnerable, and Moody has a bad cough and some very powerful enemies. He is killed, and Anna wants revenge. Say it with me, everyone: This time, it’s personal. There will be an old friend (the always-welcome Robert Patrick as a biker dude) who tries to persuade her that “You owe it to Maody to stay alive.” But Anna has to find out why Moody was killed and kill whoever was responsible.

There may be a connection to a customer who came to her bookstore. His name, improbably even in the context of a film that left probability behind about 3 minutes after the opening credits, is Rembrandt and he is played by Michael Keaton. In classic movie fashion, they flirt by knowing the same poem. Rembrandt is a fixer for a very bad guy with many minions. And unlike many fixers, he is not above getting messy. Are Rembrandt and Anna going to fight each other or have a more intimate tussle? What do you think?

It wants to be as stylish as “John Wick,” but it is not. Director Martin Campbell wants to replicate the sexy sword fight as romantic foreplay of “The Mask of Zorro,” but with these characters and this level of hand-to-hand combat, it does not work as intended. The mystery isn’t much of a mystery and you will not need a quirky hacker to figure it out. This is a good thing as he isn’t around for long. Let’s face it; this movie is just an excuse for a lot of action, from extended stunts to out-of-the-blue murders. For me, the gore and the weird vibe between Anna and Rembrandt were so extreme they took me out of the film; for some others that will be the point.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent and gory movie with many characters injured and killed and many graphic and disturbing images. There are fights, explosions, guns, and knives, torture tactics, and a lot of gushing blood. Characters use strong language and there are sexual references, some nudity, and a non-explicit situation.

Family discussion: Do you agree that it is a gift to have a friend who won’t offer help unless asked? How are Moody and Anna different from the people who hire them?

If you like this, try: “The Professional,” “Gunpowder Milkshake,” and “The Transporter”

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The Suicide Squad

Posted on August 5, 2021 at 5:40 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violence and gore, language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and brief graphic nudity
Profanity: Extremely strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extremely intense and gory violence with many disturbing and bloody, graphic images, characters injured and killed, comic book violence, guns, explosions
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 6, 2021
Date Released to DVD: October 25, 2021

Copyright 2021 Warner Brothers
Just to clarify: the 2016 film with Will Smith and Margot Robbie about the imprisoned DC Comics villains who are assembled into a “Dirty Dozen”-style team by a tyrannical official from a secret government agency is called “Suicide Squad.” This 2021 reboot is called “The Suicide Squad.” Got it?

“Guardians of the Galaxy’s” writer/director James Gunn takes over the franchise, and this is even more insouciantly nasty than the first one, relishing the carnage and ebulliently transgressive. Even the Warner Brothers logo is written in blood.

Viola Davis returns as Amanda Waller, who demonstrates her ruthlessness up front by delivering on her threat to detonate a chip that explodes the head of one of her supervillains who disobeys an order. “I wouldn’t take such extreme measures if this mission wasn’t more important than you could possibly imagine,” she says. It is “potentially cataclysmic for America and the world.” In other words, the ends justify the ultra-destructive means, including giving her license to murder her charges, not to mention giving them license to murder as well.

There are some new characters this time, including some younger villains to make it possible to include some jokes about millennials, or stereotypes, depending on your perspective. This crowd is defined by their inability to play well with others, but that is intensified here by the animosity between two alpha males, the walking weapon Bloodsport (Idris Elba) and the walking heavy bag and ironically named Peacemaker (John Cena). Also on board for some or all of the mission are a shark with legs, a second-generation rat-master, a guy with some serious mother issues who emits lethal polka dots, and of course, in what she says is her last appearance in the role, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn.

We can understand why. For all its many failings, the first “Suicide Squad” and “Birds of Prey” gave Harley Quinn what she has too seldom been given, an interesting character. She was damaged. And she was a villain. But a vestigial trace of her past life as a psychologist and a woman wronged gave her some complexity and even sympathy. She’s not as interesting here, more naughty than truly provocative. This movie is more interested in how many ways a human body can be exploded, beheaded, sliced down the middle, and otherwise dismembered than it is in anything else with the possible exception of a lot of macho posturing. It also fails to make the stakes meaningful with a worthy villain. Understandable, I suppose; it’s hard to out-villain the temporarily good bad guys. So, it’s is colorful and entertaining but lightweight and unmemorable.

NOTE: Stay for a mid-credit scene with an un-surprising surprise.

Parents should know that this movie ie extremely vulgar and gory with constant, extremely bloody peril and violence and many characters injured and killed. Characters use constant very strong language and the movie includes nudity and sexual references, and a sexual situation.

Family discussion:

If you like this, try: “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the Suicide Squad comic books

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