Thirteen Lives

Posted on August 4, 2022 at 5:17 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and unsettling images
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and tense rescue operations, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Race and economic/nationality status issues
Date Released to Theaters: August 5, 2022

Copyright Imagine 2022
Twelve young boys. One coach. Seventeen days trapped. More than 5000 rescue workers from many countries. The eyes of the world were on Thailand’s Tham Luang cave in June and July of 2018 as a soccer team exploring a cave they knew well were trapped by a sudden early monsoon that flooded it before they could get out. One more number: two and a half miles. That is how far they were from the entrance, and for almost two weeks the cave was so impenetrable that no one knew if any of them were still alive.

“Rescue” is a fine documentary about the courage and dedication of the rescuers, especially the British and Australian volunteer race rescue divers who came up with an idea so dangerous and crazy it could only become an option when every other possibility was out of the question. Ron Howard’s feature film has excellent performances from Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, and Joel Edgerton as the divers and skillful use of the camera to put us inside the narrow, claustrophobic passages of the cave with no visibility and terrifyingly swift currents. Like his best film which also plays into triskaidekaphobian fears, “Apollo 13,” this is a tick-tock tension movie, with smart people trying to solve dire, unprecedented problems under excruciating time pressure.

It is June 2018. The boys are playing soccer and talking about a SpongeBob birthday cake at an upcoming party. They ride their bicycles to the cave, with the “Sleeping Princess” shrine at the entrance. There should be plenty of time before monsoon season closes the cave until the fall. But there is not. A drenching rainstorm cuts off the exit and slowly, as the parents come looking for the boys, it is clear they are trapped inside.

The Thai Navy SEALS arrive, well-trained and courageous. But rescuing people from an ocean is very different from the highly specialized rescues of the volunteer cave divers. It turns out there is a small, dedicated, endlessly skillful and endlessly courageous group of people who are cave diving rescuers, including Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen), John Volanthen (Colin Farrell), and joining later, Richard “Harry” Harris (Joel Edgerton).

Given how much of the story is under murky water in a dark cavern filled with sharp points and tiny, twisty passages, Howard does a very good job of keeping us on top what is going on, how much time has passed, and how far we are from the tiny, precarious shelf where the boys and their coach are perched. For those who are not familiar with the details (though likely everyone is aware of the miraculous outcome) there are some dramatic twists and surprises to accompany the understated but immensely powerful story of the rescue divers. Americans will enjoy the classically British understatement that only underscores the breathtaking heroics of the story and the modesty and gratitude of the boys, the coach, and their families. The unquenchable hope, the remarkable resilience, and the cooperation of all involved, including the farmers who agreed to have their year’s crops wiped out so that water could be diverted from the cave are a story of uplift and the best that humanity has to offer.

Parents should know that this is a tense depiction of a dire real-life rescue involving children with some very high-risk choices. Characters are injured and killed and there is some strong language.

Family discussion: How did the group make the decision to take such a high-risk option? What were the biggest obstacles to the rescue other than the physical challenge of the water in the cave? What circumstances would make you fly halfway around the world to help people you’ve never met?

If you like this, try: the National Geographic documentary “The Rescue” and Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13”

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Action/Adventure Based on a true story movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews

Bullet Train

Posted on August 2, 2022 at 9:57 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong and bloody violence, pervasive language, and brief sexuality
Profanity: Very strong language
Violence/ Scariness: Constant very graphic peril and violence with spurting blood and many murders, guns, knives, poison, fire, crash, snake
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 5, 2022

Copyright 2022 Sony
The Japanese bullet train goes 200 miles per hour. Its namesake movie goes even faster. On the train is a briefcase stuffed with millions of dollars and a passenger list that includes an assortment of thieves and assassins and the kidnapped son of a crime kingpin called White Death. Action fans will understand that the over-the-top violence is exaggerated as an R-rated version of Looney Tunes, expertly crafted and often hilarious.

Brad Pitt is sensational as an all-purposes soldier of fortune trying to find something simpler and less violent than his previous jobs. His handler, Maria, tells him this is just the job for him. All he has to do is get on the train, grab the briefcase, and get off. She gives him the code name Ladybug. This is either to cheer him up or add some snark because he insists he is unlucky (as he steps into a puddle) and in Japan the ladybug is a symbol of good luck. Or both. Either way, that is the only name we know for him, an emotionally exhausted man described by another character as looking like every homeless white guy, trying to do better without having decided what better means.

At the train station he opens a locker to pick up the equipment Maria has left for him, but he decides to leave the gun behind. And he boards the train, reciting therapeutic mantras to remind himself to stay calm, determined to “put peace into the world” while all he has too do is steal a briefcase. The trick, though, is that it already belongs to someone to whom it is also valuable, and several other people who are equally experienced in smash and grab, emphasis on the smash, would also like to have it, too. There are assassins from all over, a veritable It’s a Small World of assassins.

I really want to avoid spoilers here, so I will not disclose the superstars who show up in small, funny cameos (you will probably recognize the voice of the Oscar-winner on the other side of the phone calls with Ladybug), the actor we don’t see without a mask until the last act, or some of the funniest twists. I’ll just say that stuntman-turned director David Leitch (“John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde”) is as good as it gets in fight scenes and these are a blast, and that there are some well-chosen needle drop songs on the soundtrack. The bullet train setting is also a lot of fun, with a quiet car, a car for families with young children, and a bar car, and stops of only one minute at each station.

I will, however, take a moment to discuss Brad Pitt, who shows once again that he never brings less than the best to every role. No one is better at precisely calibrating his own movie star charisma and here he plays off of it to hilarious effect. The acting in the stunt scenes is as important as the punches. As we have seen in Tarantino and some other films, countering shocking, graphic, brutality with transgressive but workmanlike casualness can be very funny. The entire cast is excellent, including Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as “the twins,” the assassins delivering (or trying to) the White Death’s son (Logan Lerman channeling Jared Leto) and the briefcase full of ransom money, Bad Bunny as a Mexican drug cartel operative, and Hiroyuki Sanada, Zazie Beetz as characters I won’t spoil.

Buckle up, everyone. This is what they’re talking about when they use the term “wild ride.”

Parents should know that this movie is non-stop action with guns, knives, poison, fire, a deadly snake, crashes, and many brutal and grisly deaths and disturbing and graphic images. A child is badly injured (but survives). Characters are hired assassins and crime kingpins and their henchmen. They use very strong language. There is a brief scene of nudity and sex.

Family discussion: Who are we rooting for in this story and how can you tell? What do you think of the Thomas the Tank Engine approach to classifying humanity? Why don’t we ever learn their real names?

If you like this, try: the book by Kotaro Isaka, the “John Wick” series, “Kill Bill,” “Boss Mode,” and “Shoot ’em Up” You might also enjoy a less violent film involving a crime and a train, “$” with Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn.

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Action/Adventure IMAX movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Scene After the Credits

NOPE

Posted on July 20, 2022 at 3:58 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout and some violence/bloody images
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, vaping
Violence/ Scariness: Extended science fiction peril and violence, characters injured and killed, very graphic and bloody images, jump scares
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 22, 2022

Copyright Universal 2022
Yep. This is one scary movie. Jordan Peele’s new film, “NOPE” does not have the depth of cultural commentary of his Oscar-winning script for “Get Out” or his follow-up, “Us,” but it is a smart, scary movie with a strong storyline, great performances, and clever details. Plus, it’s shot on IMAX and Peele, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Interstellar,” “Tenet,” “Ad Astra”), and production designer Ruth De Jong (“Twin Peaks”) know how to fill the screen and use every bit of it to tell the story.

OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya of “Get Out” and “Judas & The Black Messiah”) is a horse trainer, like his father, grand-father, and several greats. According to his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer of “Hustlers,” “Lightyear,” and “Akeelah and the Bee”), their family goes back to the very first moments of moving pictures in 1878, the two-second series of cards showing a man riding a horse. The family business is training horses for movies and television.

After a brief, terrifying preface on the set of a 90s sitcom, we see OJ and his father Otis (Keith David) working on the ranch, talking about the importance of making sure an upcoming job goes well and annoyed that Emerald has not shown up. Then something strange happens. There are disturbing sounds, like the zings and thwacks of arrows. The sound design by Johnnie Burn is creepy, evocative, and never less than outstanding. A key on a ring pierces a horse’s rump. Shrapnel hits and kills Otis.

The ranch is isolated, but nearby is a small cowboy theme park owned by former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yuen of “Minari”) and his wife, Amber (Wrenn Schmidt of “For All Mankind”). Pressed for money, OJ has been selling horses to Jupe, hoping to be able to buy them back some day. But Jupe wants to buy the entire ranch.

Meanwhile, both are beginning to be aware that the strange electrical disturbances and glimpses of something in the sky may be from another world. More important, Ricky, OJ, and Emerald see this as a potential for profit. Jupe wants to make the extraterrestrials an attraction at the park. If OJ and Emerald can get good, clear photos of aliens, they can get on Oprah!

Yeah, they’re going to need a lot more than a bag of Reese’s Pieces if they’re looking to find a cute little ET for Oprah.

That scary preface I mentioned comes back. Something went horribly wrong at a live taping of a silly sitcom starring a little Asian kid and a chimp. That child grew up to be Jupe. While he speaks smoothly about the “SNL” sketch based on the incident (Chris Kattan as the chimp!) and is happy to point out artifacts from his past, a theme about the relationship between animals and the humans who think they can tame them appears as unsettlingly as the odd sounds we hear. We see it again as the horse named Lucky misbehaves at that crucial job OJ’s father was concerned about. Or rather, the humans misbehave, giving an inadequate safety briefing. OJ mumbles until Emerald arrives and her presentation is more about her than it is about the horse. It is not a coincidence that both of these problems occur in the highly artificial performative environment of a show, the most heightened version of human life with the strange sounds and hot, bright lights and a deep gulf between reality and fantasy. There’s nice brief moment when someone reacts to OJ’s name as though he’s connected to OJ Simpson (it stands for Otis Jr.).

This ties in with the idea that the first reaction OJ, Emerald, and Jupe have to the idea of aliens is to make a show of them. How we present ourselves and how we are perceived is core to this story, going back to Emerald’s diversion in what is supposed to be a safety briefing to a description of her ancestor, the jockey in the prototype for moving images, where the horse’s name was identified but not the name of the human riding him. At June’s little theme park, Emerald inadvertently photobombs a group of visitors. And later, two more characters are added to the effort to document the aliens, Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) a blond-tipped sales and installation specialist from a big box store who sells surveillance cameras to the Haywoods and wants to find out what they want to surveil, and the fabulously named Antlers Holst, fabulously played by Michael Wincott, a cinematographer artiste who like to “make one for them, one for me” and considers capturing images without electricity a creative challenge.

There are a lot of ideas here, including some sly digs at Peele’s own industry that could fit in a Key and Peele sketch plus a dazzling series of visual images. The air dancers the Haywoods bring to the ranch, the wonderfully imagined, just tacky enough details of the theme park, the connection between Jupe’s cowboy hat blown away by the ship and the ship itself are all brilliantly designed. Every performance is superb. Schmidt and Yeun make us wish for an entire other story about their relationship. Kaluuya continues to be one of the most fascinating actors working today, bringing a rare sense of thoughtful gravity and stillness to the screen. Keke Palmer, always great, gives her best performance yet as we see Emerald become more grounded, more fierce, more aware of her connection to the brother who stayed when she left.

There are too many ideas, too many things to see to come together with the impact “Get Out” and “Us” had. But it is wonderfully entertaining and provocative enough to spark what I’m sure will be some fascinating online speculation, and to add to Peele’s reputation as one of the most significant filmmakers of his generation.

Parents should know that this film includes tense and scary sci-fi peril and violence with some graphic images. Characters are injured and killed. At one point in my notes I just wrote: “BLOOD!” There are jump scares and fake-outs. Characters use very strong language.

Family discussion: How does the relationship between OJ and Emerald change? Why are the sections of the movie named after the horses?

If you like this, try: “Get Out,” “Us,” “Coherence,” and the various versions — except the most recent — of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”

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Action/Adventure IMAX movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Science-Fiction Thriller

The Sea Beast

Posted on July 7, 2022 at 4:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Scenes in pub, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and action, references to sad deaths and injuries
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 8, 2022

Copyright Netflix 2022
The Sea Beast” is a rollicking yarn, stunningly designed and dynamically animated, with superbly cinematic editing, pacing, and framing, appealing characters, and a thoughtful conclusion. Watch it on the biggest screen you have.

It takes place in a fantasy world somewhere between “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Moby Dick.” The King and Queen have placed a bounty on sea monsters, enormous creatures that seem to be part whale, part octopus, part shark, and all scary. The kingdom’s most admired heroes are the hunters who kill the beasts and bring back proof to present to the royals.

Their adventures are legends. They and their fans believe that “Every hunter dies a great death because every hunter lives a great life!” A feisty young girl named Maisie Bramble (Zaris-Angel Hator) regales the other children at the orphanage by reading them exciting stories from old books (with engraving-style images evoking the classic era of illustration). She is determined to follow in the tradition of her parents, who died heroically on a ship called The Monarch. It is called The Inevitable, led by Captain Crow (Jared Harris), with his fearless second-in-command, Jacob (Karl Urban)

When Crow presents their latest trophy to the King and Queen, they are told their services are no longer required. The Navy will be taking over hunting duties. But Jacob persuades the King and Queen to give them one last chance. If they cannot kill the most feared beast of all, the Red Bluster, their ship will be decommissioned and they will no longer be able to pursue the sea beast, the central focus of their identity.

Maisie stows away on the Inevitable. She is not welcome. Jacob says, “The monsters I can handle. But that one will be the death of me.” Characters who are initially antagonistic will learn to understand and appreciate each other.

I liked “The Sea Beast” a lot and was never less than enthralled by the world it created. The animation and design are stunning, though there are a few disconnects in style. The ultra-reality of the water the ships are sailing on is so tactile you almost reach for a towel. The intricacy of the literally hundreds of ropes in the boat riggings are almost unfathomably complicated as they swing independently and get pulled, yanked, and unraveled. The kingdom and castle are brilliantly designed, both real and enchanting, with nautical touches emphasizing the connection to the water. The sense of space is exceptional, especially in the very dynamic action scenes. Jacob and the other hunters climb the masts as the boat is rocked by the waves and the monsters and every bit of it feels completely real. The movement of the human characters is not always as authentic and there is a character Maisie befriends who could be from a different, more stylized world.

“The Sea Beast,” like “Encanto” and “Frozen 2,” admirably grapples with themes of generational trauma and the stories we tell ourselves. When Jacob reads the book that has meant everything to Maisie, he is surprised to find the narrative inconsistent with his own experiences, amped up and one-sided and with characters saying “yar” much more often than happened in real life. It’s an ambitious film that almost completely lives up to its ambitions.

Parents should know that this movie has extended peril and action-style fantasy violence with characters injured and references to sad deaths. Characters drink alcohol.

Family discussion: How do you know whether to believe what you read or hear? Do you agree with the code? How did the characters decide who to trust? What do we learn from the name of the ship?

If you like this, try: “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “How to Train Your Dragon”

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Action/Adventure Animation Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews VOD and Streaming

Lightyear

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:54 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi peril and cartoon-style violence, sad death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022
Date Released to DVD: September 12, 2022

Copyright Disney 2022
Watch carefully in Lightyear for a moment just for those kids born in in the 80s who were the first digital natives. A cartridge inserted into a computer deck is not working correctly, and Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans taking over from Tim Allen) has to fix it. What does he do? Say it with me, people in their 30s: He blows on the exposed tape side and re-inserts it. Now, that may not have worked in real life, but thankfully, it works for Buzz.

This kind of detail is what we expect from Pixar, along with superbly crafted films that make us laugh, gasp, and cry. We’re reminded at the beginning of “Lightyear” that in 1995 Andy was given a Buzz Lightyear toy from his favorite movie. And then we’re told that this, what we ae about to see, is that movie. It doesn’t need to overdo the 90s references, but once in a while, like the blowing on the cartridge, we get a reminder that the lovable nerds at Pixar know us all too well.

This is not the toy Buzz Lightyear who has some existential confusion and thinks he is the actual character. This is the actual character, a lantern-jawed space ranger, the All-American boy next door type, brave, loyal, extremely good at his job, and stubbornly independent. His closest friend is fellow Ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). But he does not work well with others, especially rookies.

Buzz and Alisha are on a long-term space journey. They stop to investigate an uncharted planet and, as anyone who has ever clocked a red shit on “Star Trek” knows, it turns out to be much more treacherous than they expected (though, thankfully, to have breathable air). As they are on their way back to “the turnip,” which is what they call their rocket due to its shape, the rocket is so badly damaged they are stuck. All of the 1200 passengers who have been in suspended animation will have to be awakened to find that they are marooned, with no way to return to the mission or go home.

Buzz is determined to save the day. He undertakes a very dangerous test flight. For him, it is four minutes. But, due to the difference between time on a planet and time in space, he returns to find that four years have passed for Alicia and everyone else. Things have changed. The space travelers have built a community. Alicia is engaged to a scientist. People have adapted. Buzz feels responsible for getting them stuck and he is determined to keep trying until he gets the necessary mix of elements to give the rocket the fuel it needs. But each test run means another four years. He comes back and Alecia and her wife are expecting a child. He comes back again and the child is four years old. His life is passing in minutes and his friend’s is passing in years, in decades.

Other than Alicia, Buzz’s only companion is a robot cat. Think a combination of R2D2, C-3Po, and Captain Marvel’s Flerken. Ultimately he will find a group of people who do not have the training, discipline, or skills Buzz has always relied on in his missions. All of the difficulty he has had in relying on others is multiplied just as it has become necessary to trust them.

The reveal near the end did not work as well for me, but I especially liked the way it deals with two issues we don’t often see in movies for children, how to move on after making a mistake, learning to see the best in people, and learning to rely on others. As always with Pixar, the movie is filled with endearing characters and witty and telling details, brilliantly designed settings, sublime silliness, and exciting action scenes and yes, you will cry. It is easy to understand why this was Andy’s favorite movie.

Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi peril and violence with scary robots and sci-fi weapons. There is a very sad death. A devoted gay couple is portrayed in an admirably matter-of-fact, low-key manner with grace and dignity.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Buzz to accept help? What is the best way to make up for mistakes?

If you like this, try: The “Toy Story” movies, “Galaxy Quest,” and the old Flash Gordon serials.

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Action/Adventure Animation DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel
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