The Outpost

Posted on July 2, 2020 at 5:50 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for war violence and grisly images, pervasive language, and sexual references
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Substance abuse, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense wartime peril and violence, very graphic and disturbing images, many characters injured and killed, possible suicide attempt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 3, 2020

Copyright ScreenMedia 2020
There are war stories that are about strategy and courage and triumph over evil that let us channel the heroism of the characters on screen. And then there are war stories that are all of that but also engage in the most visceral terms with questions of purpose and meaning that touch us all. “The Outpost,” based on the book by news correspondent Jake Tapper, is that rare film in the second category, an intimate, immersive drama from director Rod Lurie, a West Point graduate and Army veteran who knows this world inside out and brings us from the outside in.

The script by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy wisely avoids the usual expository dialogue as a newcomer is introduced to the group. Instead, we get a crisp, military briefing-style scene-setting with on-screen text informing us that the military has set up outposts in areas that are impossible to defend and given the 53 soldiers there the impossible task of both befriending the locals and fighting off the Taliban. This one is Combat Outpost Keating, located in a near-indefensible mountain-enclosed area in Afghanistan 14 miles from the Pakistani border.

Lurie and his cast, including Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, and breakout star Caleb Landry Jones, understand the small revelatory moments, the trash-talk and taunting that is the way people away from home and coping with unendurable uncertainty connect to each other. Then there are the brief calls home when they pretend to be normal and maintain those connections. As a sign nearby reminds them to keep the calls to 10 minutes, one soldier puffs away while assuring his wife that he stopped smoking. A series of new commanding officers each bring his own ideas and style of communication. Over the course of the movie, we see how much we expect from the military, from 21st century warfare to diplomacy. Over the closing credits, we get a devastating reminder of how heartbreakingly young these soldiers are.

There are telling moments in the interactions with the locals. The soldiers do their best to implement the policies they are there to carry out, which means “soft power” like paying them for their people who have been killed as collateral damage or even as enemy or possibly those who are dead by other means but maybe a way to get more money from the Americans. “I will lose my honor with my elders,” one explains via a translator. “I can regain my honor one of two ways. One way is for all of you to lay down your arms and watch as your communities flourish with the help of the US and Allah.” That support comes in the form of “money, contracts, projects.” The other way does not need to be explained to the Afghanis or to us. The outpost also has to develop sources of intelligence in a place where there is no reason for anyone to trust them and they do not speak the language. There is a local version of the boy who cried wolf, constantly warning of an attack but with no useful details. And then there are the attacks, always expected yet always unexpected because they never know when.

Impeccable camerawork from Lorenzo Senatore and editing by Michael J. Duthie give the film a documentary feel matched by understated, natural performances from the cast. We feel their exhaustion. And we feel their dedication, more important even than their training or their courage. Their loyalty to each other in the face of risk so dire the outpost is known as Camp Custer is itself the answer to the question the story raises about purpose, meaning, and why we are here. The question of why we are there it is wise enough not to try to resolve.

Parents should know that this is a war movie with constant, intense, and graphic military and terrorist violence, disturbing images, characters injured and killed, constant very strong and crude language, sexual humor, smoking and substance abuse.

Family discussion: Which was the best commanding officer of the outpost? How do the soldiers manage their stress?

If you like this, try: “Beaufort” and “1917”

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Four Kids and It

Posted on June 29, 2020 at 5:37 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, some rude/suggestive comment, fantasy violence, and language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy peril and some violence, guns, explosion
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 30, 2020
Copyright 2020 Kindle Entertainment

Let’s get one thing clear before we talk about “Four Kids and It.” We’re going to set aside our deep affection for E. Nesbit’s book Five Children and It for a moment. That classic has at best a homeopathic relationship to this film, which is based on a sort of inspired by, sort of sequel, touch of rip-off called, without much imagination, Four Kids and It. In both cases, the story is about children who discover a magical sand-dwelling creature called a Psammead who can talk and grant wishes. And in both cases, the wishes do not exactly turn out the way the wishers hope, creating a learning experience for the wishers and some fun for the readers/audience. I’ll take a moment to warmly recommend the truly classic original, preferably read aloud and with the Paul O. Zelinsky illustrations, and get on to this far lesser but still pleasantly entertaining version.

A single dad (Matthew Goode as David) and a single mom (Paula Patten as Alice) decide for no reason whatsoever other than being idiot adults in a movie about kids, that what they should do is not tell their children that they have been dating, it is serious, and both sets of children will be staying in the same remote house along the Cornwall coast.

The children do not consider this a good surprise, especially David’s bookish daughter Ros (Teddie-Rose Malleson-Allen), who has brought a copy of Five Children and It along with her, and Alice’s daughter Smash (Ashley Aufderheide), a sk8r grrl with a massive attitude problem. Both girls miss the parents who abandoned them. Ros hopes her mother will come back and Smash hopes her father will let her come live with him. The two younger children are David’s son Robbie (Billy Jenkins), who spends all day on his gaming device and five-year-old Maudie (Ellie-Mae Siame), who just wants everyone to get along.

On the beach, the children discover the Psammead, delightfully voiced by a perfectly grumpy Michael Caine. He agrees to grant one wish a day, but each one will expire at sundown.

The house they are staying in is owned by a wealthy and eccentric man named Tristan Trent III (Russell Brand with a beard). He seems very interested in Ros and puts a tracking device on her shoe. While the children are making their wishes and the parents remain clueless, he is trying to find the Psammead.

The fantasy elements and fending off Trent are fun. What matters, though, is the way that Ros and Smash begin to understand how acknowledging they cannot have what they really want makes it possible for them to begin to move forward, starting with developing a friendship. That’s the real magic.

Parents should know that this movie has fantasy peril and some violence, including guns, falls, and an explosion, though no one is badly hurt. There are family issues and confrontations, including two parents who walk out on their families, causing a lot of distress. Characters use some schoolyard language and are rude to parents. There are some mild sexual situations involving adults and there is some potty humor.

Family discussion: If you saw a Psammead, what would you wish for? If you could go back in time, when would you pick?

If you like this, try: Five Children and It and its sequels by E. Nesbit

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Artemis Fowl

Posted on June 11, 2020 at 5:16 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy-action style violence and peril, reference to death of a parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 12, 2020
Copyright 2020 Disney

The twelve-year-old criminal mastermind of the Artemis Fowl series of books by Eoin Colfer is, as one might suspect, slightly nice-ified in this Disney version originally intended for the big screen but now coming to DisneyPlus. One might also suspect that Disney would call on the most spectacularly talented visual artists they could find to make this a family-friendly, gorgeously designed action fantasy.

Fans of the book will need to keep an open mind, as the storyline and characters have been re-aligned. As in the original, Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) is a prodigy. He defeats a chess master in five moves and spots his therapist’s treasured family heirloom as a fake. He is alone most of the time because his adored father (Colin Farrell) travels a lot on urgent but mysterious business trips. When they are together, Artemis loves listening to his father’s stories of Irish myths, filled with magical creatures and enchanted objects.

And then Artemis senior is kidnapped by the mysterious Opal Koboi, who gives Artemis three days to retrieve a powerful artifact, or his father will be killed. Artemis learns that the stories his father told him were not just fairy tales. And that the Irish blessing poem he recited was a clue in case of just exactly the kind of emergency that he now faces.

Copyright 2020 Disney

The shift to give Artemis a less criminal motive makes sense, especially since the character’s personality is cool and adult-ish at all times. At one point, he is asked if he is scared since, as through the entire movie, he is hyper-rational and shows very little emotion. His calm response is that he is, but it is better to be scared than dead. Knowing that he is doing everything to get his father back and, not incidentally, save the world, keeps us on his side.

As in the book, the film also balances out his quiet demeanor by surrounding him with colorful characters whose skills come in handy in searching for the mysterious weapon. Josh Gad is nearly unrecognizable and a lot of fun as a giant dwarf with exceptional skills at digging and hair that can pick a lock. Dame Judi Dench is a hoot as Commander Root, who is kind of the CEO of the land of magical creatures, barking out orders when it is necessary to stop time or wipe the memories of some humans who have had an unexpected encounter with magic. Basically, she is M with Spock ears. Loyal elf Holly Short (Lara McDonnell with the requisite spark and sparkle) is one of Commander Root’s must trusted aides.

Production designer Jim Clay had a dream job and got a dream result. Who wouldn’t want to dream up a fabulous mansion on the coast of Ireland, filled with Victorian furnishings and wonderful curios, not to mention an entire magical land? And who would not want to spend 90 minutes luxuriating in all of the fabulous details? The world of the film is truly magical, and the adventure looming ahead is deliciously enticing.

Parents should know that this film includes extended fantasy/action peril and violence with weapons including guns. Characters use some schoolyard language. There are references to the death of a parent and another parent is threatened.

Family discussion: Would you rather be a goblin, a fairy, or a troll? How did Artemis get Holly to trust him?

If you like this, try: the Artemis Fowl books and the book and movie series about Percy Jackson and Harry Potter

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Hamilton — Original Cast!! — Coming to Disney Plus

Posted on May 13, 2020 at 5:28 pm

The original Broadway cast of Hamilton film is coming to Disney+ on July 3.

The show was filmed live on stage with the original cast at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016.

The original Broadway cast appearing in the film include Tony Award® winners Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton; Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler; Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr; Tony Award® nominees Christopher Jackson as George Washington; Jonathan Groff as King George; Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton; and Jasmine Cephas Jones as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds; Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison; and Anthony Ramos as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton.

The cast also includes Carleigh Bettiol, Ariana DeBose, Hope Easterbrook, Sydney James Harcourt, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson, Elizabeth Judd, Jon Rua, Austin Smith, Seth Stewart, and Ephraim Sykes.

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Movie for Homebound Families VIII: Adventure

Posted on May 6, 2020 at 3:39 pm

Copyright WB 1985

These movies are about kids having an adventure, mostly for older kids, 10 and up.

The Last Action Hero:  Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as an action hero and as the actor who plays him in this PG-13 film that is a satire of and an affectionate love letter to action films. A young fan gets pulled inside his favorite film series and then he and the hero are catapulted into the real world. It’s smart, funny, and exciting.

Bad Hair Day: We’ve all been there. Somehow while we slept something truly awful happened to our hair. In this delightful Disney channel movie a high school senior’s bad hair leads to an adventure about a necklace that is being sought by a jewel thief and a FBI agent.

The Goonies: This 80’s classic may be the most popular film for the generation of today’s parents. A group of kids go on an amazing adventure and find a treasure, with a lot of goofy fun along the way.

Big-time Goonies fan Josh Gad got the cast together on Zoom, with some surprise appearances.

James and the Giant Peach: Roald Dahl’s book about the boy who goes for a remarkable ride with Grasshopper, Centipede, Ladybug, and more, all the way to the top of the Empire State Building.

Spy Kids: This wonderfully imaginative and reassuringly low-violence story has a lot of heart and humor. Two kids find out that their parents are spies when they have to rescue them, leading to quite an adventure.

Time Bandits: A boy goes on a gorgeously imaginative magic journey when some mischevious little people steal a map that shows the time holes in the universe, which they plan to use to steal all kinds of treasure.

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