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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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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Jurassic World: Dominion

Posted on June 8, 2022 at 12:36 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense sci-fi peril, scary monsters, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 10, 2022

Copyright Universal 2022
The most important lesson from “Jurassic World: Dominion” is that as terrifying and deadly as dinosaurs can be, there are some forces even more scary. One is that movie standard villain, the corporate CEO who will stop at nothing to dominate the world. The other is a very, very angry 12 year old girl.

But yes, this movie has terrifying and deadly dinosaurs, ones that run, ones that fly, ones that swim, and they are innumerable. And this action-packed entry in the series is character-packed as well. In addition to our friends from the previous “Jurassic World” movies, Owen (Chris Pratt), Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), Barry (Omar Sy), and Maisie (Isabella Sermon), and our favorites from the first three films, Ellie (Laura Dern), Alan (Sam Neill), and Ian (Jeff Goldbloom), we have terrific new characters, including biotech CEO Lewis Dodgson (hmm, name a reference to Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, real name Charles Dodgson?) played by Campbell Scott, his top employee at Biosyn is Ramsey Cole (the terrific Mamoudou Athie), and, my instant favorite character, LaWanda Wise as Han Solo, I mean as Kayla Watts, the brave, independent, not unwilling to break the law but with an essence of integrity pilot.

And the characters really need a pilot in this story, which jumps from one location to another more than a James Bond movie. Wherever they go, however, there are dinosaurs.

The movie sets up several different storylines before bringing them together at the headquarters of Dodgson’s Biosyn corporation, located, like all good supervillain lairs, on a deserted island. As it begins, dinosaurs are all over the world, making a nest on a skyscraper, grazing in the prairie, killing other animals, each other, and some people. Humans are reacting as we have too often seen them do, arguing about policy and setting up black markets and dino versions of cattle rustling and cockfights.

Owen and Claire are off the grid, living in a remote cabin with Maisie, whose parthenogenic origin and survival following an innovative gene therapy is of great interest to scientists and to those who want to exploit her genes (she is referred to at one point as the world’s most valuable intellectual property). There is a thrilling scene in this part of the film as Owen, on horseback, chases dinosaurs through a snowy Western plains area, swinging a huge lasso like a John Ford cowboy. Maisie is getting impatient and angry, and has started to break the rules about staying out of sight. A plague of locusts with some dinosaur genes are destroying crops, “the food we eat and the food our food eats.” Ellie asks Alan, who she has not seen for years, to help her investigate a possible tie to Biosyn. She has been invited there by mathematician and chaos-ologist Ian, a consultant at Biosyn.

Maisie is kidnapped, along with a baby dinosaur born without a male parent, the child of Owen’s old friend Blue, and brought to Biosyn.

All of this is just an excuse for one thrill-ride action scene after another, all superbly staged with brilliant sound design and editing. Many of them have fake-outs just long enough for you to catch your breath, thinking they’ve made it, when it turns out they haven’t and it all starts up again. This is the essence of a summer movie. Is Maisie’s British accent genetically transmitted? She has exclusively heard only Americans since she was a toddler. And didn’t Owen’s hand trick only work after long-term, painstaking clicker-training? But now it suddenly works on dinos who have never seen him before? Oh, go watch Pitch Meeting if you care about that stuff. Just pass the popcorn and enjoy the chases.

Parents should know that this movie has non-stop very intense peril and action with some graphic images and some strong language.

Family discussion: What was the most important thing Maisie learned about her mother?

If you like this, try: the other Jurassic Park and Jurassic World movies

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Action/Adventure Based on a book movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Science-Fiction Series/Sequel

Top Gun: Maverick

Posted on May 16, 2022 at 8:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and some strong languag
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, scenes in bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extended intense military peril and action
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 24, 2022
Date Released to DVD: November 1, 2022

Copyright 2022 Paramount
I’m happy to report that “Top Gun: Maverick” is everything a fan could hope for. It is exciting, it is endearing, it just about blows kisses at the fans, and it is guaranteed to make many new ones. You want to start right off with Kenny Loggins singing about the danger zone! You’ve got it. You want hot guys with their shirts off playing some sort of ball game on the beach! Happy to provide. You want to see Tom Cruise on his motorcycle? There it is. (No helmet though, not too happy about that.) You want to see him run very fast? Well, sorry about that. JK it’s a Tom Cruise movie, of course he is going to run and no one runs like Tom Cruise runs. You want to see some very cool and intense action in the sky, shot with lenses specifically developed for this movie? Of course you will. You want to see complex characters and believable plot lines? Oh, come on, no you don’t!

Maverick (Tom Cruise) is still the same break-the-rules hotshot he was 36 years ago. We see him working on his old plane as we hear Kenny Loggins sing. And once again (there will be a lot of “once agains” in this movie) he is in trouble for taking risks and ignoring orders. Just as before, over the objections of his commanding officer (a brief appearance by Ed Harris), he is being sent to Top Gun, the San Diego-based training facility for elite Navy fliers. He has a friend and protector fans of the original film will be glad to see again, Val Kilmer as Iceman, now an admiral.

Maverick is needed to train the best of the best of the best for an impossible real-life mission, taking out a nuclear weapons facility in the Mideast before the arrival of uranium in three weeks, when bombs would release radiation. Instead of describing the “two miracles” necessary for blowing up the construction site, I will refer you to “Star Wars: A New Hope,” because it is pretty much the same thing. I half expected one of the pilots to say, “I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home.”

The best of the best of the best have skills, but as we’ve seen, they also have a lot of ego, a lot of adrenaline, and a lot of hyper-competitive posturing. Just to make this throwback even throwback-ier, there’s a special blast from the past. Many movies have what is called a DBTA, which stands for Dead by Third Act, a character whose only role in the story is to give the main character a death to mourn and learn from. So it has to be someone we in the audience connect to as well. Goose in “Top Gun” is the quintessential DBTA. As soon as he plays “Great Balls of Fire” on the piano with his wife (Meg Ryan) and toddler son, we know he is too adorable to make it to the end of the story. That toddler son is now one of the best of the best of the best, call sign Rooster (Miles Teller), and he has a huge amount of resentment toward Maverick.

If Rooster is the new Maverick, impulsive and abrupt, then the new Iceman is the terrific Glen Powell as Hangman, careful and by the book. Maverick has to prepare the young pilots for the impossible mission while his exasperated immediate superior officer (Jon Hamm) does his best to get in the way.

The original film had a reference to some trouble Maverick got into with an admiral’s daughter named Penny. She shows up in this film as a single mom who owns the local bar and is played by Jennifer Connelly with grace and wit.

Speaking of “Star Wars,” there is also a Yoda-esque theme with Maverick stressing the importance of intuition and the human being more important than the gizmos, even a touch of the old fable of John Henry being faster than the machine. And some of the plot developments in the last half hour are near-ridiculous. That is less important than what works in the film, outstanding cinematography, editing, action, romance, terrific performances from a collection of young performers, and of course full-on movie star Tom Cruise, clearly having a blast.

Parents should know that this film has intense military action with dogfights and bombs. Characters drink and use strong language and there are sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: If you were Penny, what rules would you adopt in the bar? Are you more like Hangman or Rooster?

If you like this, try: “Top Gun” and the “Mission: Impossible” movies and check out these thoughts on the movie from an air combat expert

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Action/Adventure Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Romance Series/Sequel
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