Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

Posted on July 14, 2022 at 3:20 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol and tipsiness
Violence/ Scariness: References to wartime deaths and injuries
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: July 14, 2022

Copyright 2022 FOCUS
“To be possessed is an admirable reason for possessing,” wrote Dorothy L. Sayers. Blaise Pascal said, “the heart has its reasons which reason does not know.” Those who are lucky enough to want some special object not for prestige but purely for love and a deep connection to the item’s artistry or history will understand the story of a shy Cockney woman who develops a passion for an haute couture dress.

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is a sweet Cinderella story about a cleaning lady who dreams of a Dior gown. It is based on the book by Paul Gallico, an author who was determined to work in a variety of genres, and so films based on his work include the classic disaster film “The Poseidon Adventure,” the charming fantasy musical “Lili,” and an earlier version of this story starring Angela Lansbury, Omar Sharif, and Diana Rigg. (NOTE: the original book and the first movie are called “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris,” to reflect the dropped h’s of the Cockney accent.)

It is set in post-WWII London. Mrs. Harris (exquisitely played by Lesley Manville) and her best friend Vi (Ellen Thomas) are close friends who spend their days cleaning up the careless messes of people who have enough money to be careless. Through them, Mrs. Harris glimpses lives bigger and more colorful than her own. One of her clients is Lady Dent, who somehow never seems to have the cash on hand to pay her (Anna Chancellor, “Duckface” from “Four Weddings and a Funeral”). There is also is a high-strung aspiring actress, and a rakish, derby-hatted bachelor (played with a cheeky wink by Christian McKay) who has an endless stream of “nieces” leaving in the morning wearing their dresses from the evening before.

Mrs. Harris still has a small unopened package sent to her by her husband when he was in the military in WWII, the last communication she received from him. It is now more than 10 years later and she has not been able to bring herself to open it. Finally, she does and sees what she did not want to see before. He was killed in action. It is not a coincidence that this happens just as she becomes mesmerized by an haute couture gown Lady Dent has bought for 500 pounds (about $15,000 in today’s dollars). It is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen and she decides she must get one for herself.

She assembles 500 pounds through scrimping, doing extra work, including “invisible repairs” sewing, and an assortment of unexpected windfalls. She has just enough for a one-day trip to Paris to get the gown. But once she gets there she learns first that their haughty director (Isabelle Huppert) does not want a shabby little Englishwoman anywhere near their brand and their other customers, and second, even if she is able to purchase a gown it will be made to order for her and require two weeks of fittings. And so, her adventures in Paris begin. (NOTE: Dior participated in helping to re-create some of their stunning fashions.)

It is not just her mending that is invisible. Mrs. Harris herself begins to learn that she has felt invisible, not worthy of being seen. Like the contents of the package, Mrs. Harris has been hidden and enclosed for a long time. Acknowledging her yearning and insisting that she deserves to own an item of beauty and artistry helps her locate a new openness to others and determination on other issues. At first, she relates to her new acquaintances with what she knows, cleaning and cooking. But she discovers through their responses to her that she has more to contribute.

Manville is a perfect choice for this role (and for pretty much any other, too — see her Mike Leigh performances and her appearance in a very different haute couture film, “The Phantom Thread”). While Mrs. Harris may not always see herself that way, Manville shows us in every moment that the character’s discovery of her courage and value is as much a work of art as the meticulously constructed gowns of Dior.

Parents should know that this film has mild rude humor and references to wartime injuries and death.

Family discussion: Have you ever wanted something the way Mrs. Harris wants the gown? Why was it so important to her? How did her experiences in Paris change the way she saw herself? How to the references to Sartre‘s existentialism relate to her story? Did you notice the “zoom dolly” shots made famous by Stephen Spielberg in “Jaws?” What do they tell us?

If you like this, try: the earlier version with Angela Lansbury and Gallico’s books, including The Snow Goose, and look up some of Dior’s classic designs

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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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Fire Island

Posted on June 2, 2022 at 1:37 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, drug use, strong nudity, language throughout
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 3, 2022

Like a bride, “Fire Island” has something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. What’s old is the most durable of movie storylines, the romantic comedy. Borrowed: the inspiration for the storyline, the ur-narrative of the romantic comedy, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Something new: populating the story of attraction, misunderstandings, vulnerability, and romance with all gay characters, in the title resort, famously a favorite of gay men since the 1920s. And something blue: it is definitely rated R. Also funny and yes, romantic.

Copyright Searchlight 2022

Stand-up comic Joel Kim Booster wrote and stars in the film as Noah, along-side his real-life best friend SNL’s Bowen Yang as Howie. For Austen fans, Noah is the more cynical Elizabeth Bennett, and Howie is the more romantic Jane. Noah and Howie come to Fire Island for a week each summer with their friends to stay with Erin (Margaret Cho) and enjoy the beach, the parties, and the men. On this visit, Noah, usually there to have sex with as many random men as possible, promises he will be a celibate wingman for Howie until Howie finds someone.

It is a lot of fun to spot the Austen influence, where it guides the storyline and where Booster pays tribute by going in another direction. Instead of the snobbish Miss Bingley, we have Nick Adams as Cooper, the designer-wearing meanie who looks down on Noah and his friends, especially when he sees handsome doctor who is the film’s version of Austen’s amiable Mr. Bingley. And as the Mr. Darcy character, who turns out to be less proud and disdainful than he seems, we have Conrad Ricamora as Will. What will stand in for the book’s scandalous elopement? I’ll just say it is shrewdly chosen.

Also fun: a peek into a world straight people might not otherwise see or for those who have waited much too long to see their world reflected on screen.  As we always say, the more particular something is, the more universal it is, and this is a good example, unabashedly open about this culture but completely relatable in its depiction of friendship and chosen families.

Parents should know that this film is rated R for very explicit sexual situations and nudity, constant very strong language, drinking, and drugs.

Family discussion: Why was Howie so pessimistic about finding love? Was Noah a good friend to him?

If you like this, try: The “Queer Eye” series and the many versions of “Pride and Prejudice”

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The Bad Guys

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 5:36 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated.PG for action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon action-style law enforcement peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 22, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal
“The Bad Guys,” based on the popular series of graphic novels by Aaron Blabey, is an adorable animated film about guys who are not as bad as they think. They are seen as the scariest animals on earth, but even when they are committing crimes, they do not realize that they have good qualities, too. They are loyal friends, for example, and honest some of the time. We first see Wolf (Sam Rockwell) and Snake (Mark Maron) in a diner, where Wolf not only celebrates Snake’s birthday but even when there’s no one to pay for the meal, they make sure to pay for it anyway.

And then they rob the bank across the street. Okay, they’re bad. That could be, though, because they are just behaving the way people expect. Wolves, sharks, snakes, tarantulas, and piranhas have bad reputations. So they’re just living up or rather down to what the humans around them expect.

Adults watching with their children may notice the resemblance to some very adults-only movies, the first scene a tip of the cinematic chapeau to “Pulp Fiction,” not just the diner setting but the rhythm of the dialogue and the editing. Like the “Sesame Street” versions of adult content, it is there to entertain the grown-ups, but it is also there because even toned-down, it is fun to watch.

“The Bad Guys” has the fun of another genre kids do not often see, the heist film, with all kinds of problem-solving, setbacks, and teamwork. In addition to Wolf, the cool, Danny Ocean planner-type, and Snake, an escape artist, the gang also includes, of course, a tech whiz, Awkwafina as Tarantula, and eight legs come in very handy working on keyboards. Shark (Craig Robinson) is the master of disguise. And Piranha (Anthony Ramos) is the muscle. (The movie characters wisely have more diversity than the books.) The voice talent is superb. Not all actors can do voice work. It makes sense; they’re used to being able to rely on their faces and bodies to express emotion. But Sam Rockwell gives one of his all-time best performances as Wolf, perfectly matching the cool sophistication of the character and his moments of doubt and vulnerability. The animation is outstanding, stylish and dynamic when it needs to be, touches of anime, especially with the police officer voiced by Alex Borstein, and a bit of a hand-drawn feel to prevent CGI over-perfection.

There are some fun surprises and twists along the way and of course some lessons on the satisfactions of being a good guy. But not too good; we want to leave room for some sequels.

Parents should know that while it is all done with humor, this is a movie about characters who commit crimes, mostly theft. There are some chases and some cartoon-style peril and a mind-control machine, but no one gets hurt. The movie also includes some rude humor and schoolyard language.

Family discussion: What makes someone bad or good? Why is it hard for the bad guys to consider others’ rights and feelings? Which is your favorite bad guy character and why?

If you like this, try: the book and its sequels and “Zootopia”

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Death on the Nile

Posted on February 10, 2022 at 5:39 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Murders, gun
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 11, 2022
Date Released to DVD: April 4, 2022
Copyright 20th Century 2021

Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel about a murder in Egypt has been sumptuously brought to screen by Sir Kenneth Branagh, who directed and stars as super-sleuth Hercule Poirot. (It was previously filmed with Peter Ustinov in 2009.)

For this version of “Death on the Nile,” Branagh worked again with his outstanding “Belfast” cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and production designer Jim Clay, and their work here is never less than breathtakingly exquisite, matched by the fabulous costumes designed by Paco Delgado and JobanJit Singh, worn by some of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. It is beautiful to look at, and to listen to, with a superb soundtrack that includes sultry songs by a nightclub performer (Sophie Okonedo, the highlight of the film). But as with Branagh’s previous Poirot film, there are some confounding choices that distract us from the reason we’re there, which is to have just enough information and almost enough emotional involvement to enjoy the puzzle. For some inexplicable reason, Branagh and his screenwriter, Michael Green (“Logan”) think that we need to understand Poirot’s backstory, which Dame Agatha knew very well we did not. In 33 books, 2 plays, and more than 50 short stories, she wisely never told us more about Poirot than that he was proud of his “little gray cells,” his Belgian heritage (he is often mistaken for French), and his impressive mustache and that he sometimes spoke of retiring to plant vegetable marrows. This film begins with an un-Christie, un-canon flashback to Poirot’s WWI combat experience, and it (and the coda at the end) add nothing to the story.

The story has more than enough love, betrayal, melodrama, and yes, murder to fill a movie. In fact, to my recollection, it adds at least one murder to the Christie original for, again, no particular reason. This is a darker story than “Murder on the Orient Express,” but the tone of the film, and even the stunning images (people and settings) are off-kilter with the carnage of the story. There’s a reason that the stories by Christie and her imitators are called “cozies.” Unlike noir mysteries, they are comparatively neat and civilized. Noir is rotgut whiskey and bathtub gin. Cozies are afternoon tea with lemon curd and clotted cream.

It begins (after we get the flashback out of the way) with two devoted friends, both beautiful, high-spirited young women. Jacqueline (Emma Mackey) is poor and Linnet (Gal Gadot) is very wealthy. Jacqueline tells Linnet she is madly in love with Simon (Armie Hammer) but they need money to get married. Linnet immediately offers her whatever she needs as a wedding gift, but Jacqueline says that what she wants is a job for her fiancé. If Linnet will hire him as her estate manager, that’s all they need. Linnet agrees, Simon asks her to dance to celebrate and…in the next scene, it is Simon and Linnet who are married, celebrating in Egypt. Jacqueline, almost mad with jealousy, has followed them. To feel safe, Linnet invites a group to take a boat to see the famous tomb at Abu Simbal and other sights along the Nile. She tells Poirot that having money means it is impossible to trust anyone.

The other passengers include the blues singer and her accompanist/manager niece (Letitia Wright of “The Black Panther”), Poirot’s handsome young friend Bouc (Tom Bateman, returning in the same role he played in “Murder on the Orient Express”) and his protective mother (Annette Bening), two middle-aged British ladies (underused Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders), Linnet’s lawyer (Ali Fazal) and doctor (a sincere, melancholy, toned-down Russell Brand). Jacqueline joins the group as well. When someone is murdered, it turns out that many of the passengers may have had motive and/or opportunity. Poirot will have to ask questions and ultimately gather all of the surviving group in one room to tell them which of them is guilty.

Where will the next Branagh/Christie all-star mystery take place? Following a train and a boat, which conveniently limit inquiries to the people on board. Maybe an airplane? A submarine? Despite its shortcomings, I’ll be along for the ride.

Parents should know that this is a murder mystery with some grisly and disturbing images. There are also sexual references and characters use some strong language and drink alcohol.

Family discussion: Which clues did you miss? How do the songs relate to the story and characters?

If you like this, try: the original “Murder on the Orient Express,” “10 Little Indians,” and more Christie-based movies and television series as well as her books.

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